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Breaking the ice with Dr. Scott

Cargill scientist dispels myths about road salt

February 04, 2015

Winter storms have pummeled the northeastern United States with record levels of snow in some spots. As road crews fight the aftermath with plowing, they also use rock salt and other products to help make driving safer.

Misconceptions about road salt exist, says Dr. Scott Koefod, senior principal scientist for Cargill Deicing Technology, one of the leading providers of deicing products in North America.

“It’s interesting to note that people may often misunderstand the goal of deicing salt,” said Dr. Scott. “It’s not to melt all the snow. The typical highway salt application rate only melts five to 10 percent of a one-inch snowfall, although that is still very effective.  The goal of deicing salt is to melt snow at the pavement surface to facilitate plowing and to melt residual slippery ice traces.”

Deicing is the process of melting water already frozen. How exactly do deicing products like road salt work? “All chemical deicers work by lowering the freezing point of water,” Dr. Scott said. “It’s not practical to melt thousands and thousands of miles of roadways with heat – we don’t have the infrastructure and it’s not efficient. So chemical deicers are a really nifty way of doing a little trick by lowering the freezing point of water.”

The use of salt to make winter driving safer is a concern because chemicals can eventually make their way to streams, rivers and other bodies of water. “We understand that,” said Dr. Scott. “That’s why we have built into our mission statement a goal of providing deicers that have a reduced environmental impact.”

One of those products is ClearLane® enhanced deicer, which is salt with a patented formula and mixing process that helps the product adhere to the road surface better than regular salt. Lab tests show that 80 percent of ClearLane® stays within 18 inches of where it lands as opposed to 51 percent of regular salt. ClearLane carries the distinguished “Design for the Environment” label that is granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cargill Deicing Technology’s customers are local governments and private contractors in the United States and Canada who maintain roadways during North America’s snowy and icy winters. As another tool to help these customers understand how the products work, the Cargill business has launched a series of videos on YouTube called “Ask Dr. Scott: Clear Answers. Safer Roads.”

Dr. Koefod was a likely candidate to provide the advice: he has more than 20 years of experience in the study and development of deicers, and he is the principal inventor of 12 patents related to deicing.