Preserving the Environment

Drinking More Vodka: A Green Solution to Melting Icy Roads?

December 5, 2014
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Drinking More Vodka: A Green Solution to Melting Icy Roads?
Leftover barley residue from vodka distilleries may be a revolutionizing solution to road ice. Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Washington State University scientists have come up with a spirited alternative to rock salt.

It’s a whole new meaning to vodka on the rocks. Aside from giving you a mean hangover, turns out that the clear spirit is pretty effective at melting snow.

As Phys.org reports, Washington State University (WSU) researchers developed a de-icer that’s made of barley residue from vodka distilleries. (The science makes sense for anyone who’s ever noticed that vodka never seems to freeze, even when you put a bottle in the freezer.)

The innovation is being touted as a greener alternative to rock salt, which is not only expensive (the U.S. uses 20 million tons of salt every winter, which costs $2.3 billion annually), but also carries environmental costs. Chemicals in the traditional road salt mixture have been known to seep into nearby streams and rivers, harming aquatic life and contaminating our drinking water.

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“In 2013, the [Environmental Protection Agency] reported alarming levels of sodium and chloride in groundwater along the East Coast,” Xianming Shi, associate professor in civil and environmental engineering, says in a press release from WSU. As a nation, “we are kind of salt addicted, like with petroleum, as it’s been so cheap and convenient for the last 50 years.”

Actually, in recent years, salt prices have only been going up. Cities that are experiencing usually harsh winters due to climate change have had to work extra hard to de-ice their roads, which has led to national road-salt shortages and higher prices.

WSU’s product, as Vice notes, is blended with salt but reduces the amount of salt that’s regularly needed to melt snow, and also makes use of a byproduct that would’ve been thrown out by vodka producers anyway.

Besides vodka byproducts, innovators have had success with other seemingly kooky low-sodium solutions, from beet juice to cheese brine. In Wisconsin (a state with no shortage of cheese or ice), Polk County officials estimated that they saved almost $40,000 in rock salt costs in 2009, the year they started using cheese brine on the highways.

DON’T MISS: Wisconsin Has a Seriously Cheesy Way to Melt Its Snow and Ice

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