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Beet goes on: Engineer tries beet juice to treat roads

December 15, 2011

Seth Rohrbach, an employee of the Auglaize County Engineer’s Office, builds a tank to be used to spread a beet juice mixture on salt and grit to treat county roads this winter.

The Auglaize County engineer is trying a new method to combat snow and ice on roads this winter — beet juice.
Starting with a truck equipped with one unit of a beet juice-salt brine mixture, which is to be applied to the limestone and salt mixture before it is laid on county roads, Auglaize County Engineer Doug Reinhart said they are in the process of adding three additional units.
“This time next year I’ll be able to tell you what we’re going to,” Reinhart said regarding whether more units for dispersing the beet juice would be added to county trucks.
He said if it works well enough, by next December, all 15 county trucks used for plowing snow on routes and two which work on standby may be equipped with beet juice units to coat the material being spread on roads.
Trucks using the beet juice now are to have 90-gallon units mounted on their tailgates with the liquid sprayed on the salt and stone as it comes out of the truck and is spread on the road.
Reinhart said the liquid additive is especially helpful when temperatures fall below the freezing point and stay there and on heavily packed snow and ice.
“Last year, when we sustained low temperatures and no sunshine for several days in a row, our mixture had very little effect,” Reinhart said. “This works when driving conditions are at their worst.
“It’s our first year using it, but we expect it to be quite effective,” he said.
He said initially, they won’t be using the beet juice mix on every road every time a snow or ice event occurs because of the cost, but he’s expecting it to be particularly helpful during ice events and situations where snow is heavily packed and temperatures remain extremely cold.
With the option to flip a switch to turn the juice mix on and off, Reinhart said they can use it as needed.
The beet juice adds an extra $5 a ton cost to the $45 ton mixture the county uses to treat roads. With 6,000 tons used during the worst year, costs for that mixture and any added components tally up fast, but some reports have indicated that as more beet juice is used, less salt is needed, reducing costs there.
“The cost is nearly equal with better effects,” Reinhart said. “If the price of salt keeps rising it will make it more cost effective.”
He said he hopes the beet juice also won’t be needed in the beginning or end of each season, when temperatures are warmer.
The Engineer’s Office purchased one unit for $2,000, but has since found a way to make three additional units using its own employees at half the cost.
One of those units is installed on a rover truck that can help out when and where it’s needed.
Others are expected to be installed within the next couple weeks on trucks headed in each direction from Wapakoneta.
“We’ll be looking at using it on roads to Lima and manufacturing centers where early morning traffic counts are high,” Reinhart said.
If the material works as well as he’s heard, he is anticipating adding more units along the way.
Each unit holds 90 gallons of the beet juice and brine mixture and is enough to treat the load of stone and salt being carried by the truck.
Keeping the materials separate until right before they hit the road is the most effective way, Reinhart said.
“There’s been a lot of research, but it’s not an exact science,” Reinhart said of the method being used in other states and counties such as Montgomery, in Ohio, but no where else locally. “We used it last Thursday to pretreat bridge decks on 20 major river bridges and overpasses when they were calling for a chance of freezing rain.
“The decks, which are the first to freeze, stayed wet, even when other areas were slick. It worked,” he said.
For the next winter season, Reinhart said they also are planning to add belly plow trucks to their fleet, starting with a new dump truck, they expect to get next year, but probably not in time to use this winter.
He said the belly plow also helps better control packed snow by using the weight of the truck, not just the weight of the plow, to move it.
“It cuts off more snow, leaving less to treat,” Reinhart said.
“Those who use them (both across the state and country) swear by them,” he said of the combined use of both types of plows.
Reinhart said after 37 years on the job, he’s still learning as new technologies and methods to keep roads ice and snow free come out.
“We keep trying to do better to make roads safer for drivers, Reinhart said.”

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