New de-icer tests well in frosty Fine Arts mishap

When a steam valve malfunction set off fire sprinklers in the Fine Arts parking garage Sunday night, freezing temperatures soon turned floors to ice. Traditional magnesium chloride de-icer wouldn’t cut it, so Facilities Operations crews applied a new de-icer that WSU is testing in some areas this winter.
It works at colder temperatures and is better for the environment, said Keith Bloom, director of construction services for Capital Planning and Development.
“Beet juice” is desugared molasses, a waste byproduct of sugar beet processing and alcohol manufacture. It is the color of soy sauce and consistency of whole milk.
Common chloride-based de-icers, including magnesium chloride, corrode steel, concrete infrastructure and equipment. They also increase chloride pollution in stormwater and groundwater.
The new product contains some calcium chloride, but significantly less than traditional de-icer, Bloom said. Tests have shown beet juice can inhibit or neutralize corrosion caused by chlorides.
Traditional de-icing agents are effective to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit, while the beet juice product works to -25 degrees. That was crucial in the Fine Arts parking garage, Bloom said. While magnesium chloride had no effect, beet juice turned the ice to slush, which then could be shoveled out.
The only hangup was that Fac Ops crews couldn’t shovel fast enough. The diluted de-icer and slush refroze in some areas. Crews were at work Tuesday applying beet juice and strong backs to clear 20-30 more parking spaces, Bloom said.
Though it is more expensive, the new product also goes further and lasts longer, so costs may even out in the long run, Bloom said.
The beet juice de-icer is in use on Library Road, Terrell Mall, Wilson Road, Martin Stadium, and outside the CUB. After this winter, WSU will determine whether to continue and expand its use.