What do peony leaves, sugar beet leaves, dandelion leaves, and grape skins have in common? No, they're not ingredients in some trendy salad. In fact, they are the raw ingredients being used to make the newest road deicing solution. Two researchers from Washington State University, Dr. Xianming Shi and graduate student Mehdi Honarvar Nazari have come up with a more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional road salt and beet juice solutions.
Each year in the United States, around 27 million tons of sodium chloride road salt is applied to roads as deicer during the winter months. Once the weather warms up, though, $5 billion is the average national annual repair bill for damage to road infrastructure, including pavement and bridge repair, both of which are corroded from sodium chloride application. Even the newer beet juice additive, while enhancing the performance of road salt and making it less corrosive to infrastructure, still poses a risk to aquatic wildlife by depleting oxygen once it runs off into local watersheds.
The team from Washington State University, originally tasked with developing a more environmentally friendly and locally-sourced deicing solution by the Alaska Department of Transportation, has experimented with a diverse array of agricultural waste materials. The most effective solution, surpassing even traditional road salt, was made by extracting chemicals from grape skins using both chemical degradation and natural fermentation. The process produces no waste, was shown to produce significantly less damage to concrete and asphalt, and poses less of a risk to aquatic life. Additionally, the process of making the deicing solution is adaptable. The raw waste materials that the local agriculture of a particular region produces can be used to make a similar, but locally-sourced solution for that location.