August 09, 2023

Comparing Commercial De-icers: Salt Brine versus Other Chemical and Organic Options

By Sona Mathews

Whether you manage a fleet of school buses, run an airport, or maintain municipal roads, choosing the right commercial liquid deicer is essential.

While salt brine has grown in popularity as a cost-effective deicing alternative,  they still face competition from chemical and organic deicers.

Salt brine dissolves the salt in the water to create a liquid-deicer solution.

Though often more affordable than other commercial deicers, salt brine has some drawbacks compared to higher-performing chemical or organic options.

Comparing Commercial De-icers Salt Brine versus Other Chemical and Organic Options: eAskme
Comparing Commercial De-icers Salt Brine versus Other Chemical and Organic Options: eAskme

This article will compare the pros and cons of salt brine deicers versus chemical and organic commercial liquid deicers, focusing on factors like ice melting capability, costs, and environmental impacts.

What is Salt Brine?

Salt brine is a liquid deicer solution dissolving plain rock salt in water.

Lower concentration salt brine, around 20 to 22%, is commonly used for pre-wetting solid salt to improve adhesion and performance.

Higher concentration salt brine, about 23% up to saturation, can be applied straight to surfaces as a deicer.

Some benefits of salt brine for deicing include lower material costs compared to other commercial liquid deicers.

But salt brine also typically melts ice faster than dry salt due to the liquid's ability to penetrate ice better and utilize a lower freezing point depression.

Salt brine also has a higher heat capacity and fusion heat than solid salt, allowing them to absorb and release more heat energy during the phase change from ice to water.

Chemical De-icers:

Chemical de-icers use organic or inorganic compounds rather than sodium chloride salt to melt snow and ice on pavement surfaces.

Calcium chloride and potassium acetate are chemical de-icers commonly used on roads and runways.

These products have strengths over traditional salt in their higher melting performance and ability to work at colder temperatures below ordinary salt's effective range.

However, chemical de-icers also have downsides. They tend to cost significantly more per ton than sodium chloride salt.

Some compounds can be more corrosive to vehicles and infrastructure if overused or improperly applied.

While providing better ice and snow melting at lower temperatures, frequent use of stronger chemical de-icers over time can damage pavement through increased corrosion and formation of ethylene glycol deposits, requiring more repair and maintenance costs.

Therefore, chemical de-icers should be applied judiciously and combined with traditional salt or organic abrasives for optimum results.

Organic Products:

Organic products derived from beet juice, molasses, and corn byproducts are also used as de-icers for roads and runways.

These eco-friendly options are favored for their lower corrosion risks and more sustainable nature than traditional salt and chemical-based products.

As they are less toxic and made from agricultural materials, organic de-icers pose fewer environmental hazards if they run off into soil and groundwater.

However, organic de-icers also have limitations, especially in freezing weather.

Because they are more 'natural' formulations, their performance drops significantly at temperatures below 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

The organic compounds that give them melting ability also break down more rapidly when exposed to sunlight, traffic, and weather.

This means organic de-icers have to be reapplied more often to maintain effectiveness.

Their generally weaker and shorter-lived performance compared to chemical de-icers makes organic options best suited for light snow and ice conditions or as supplements used with other products.

Overall, though environmentally preferable, pure organic de-icers struggle to match the consistent ice-melting ability of salt and chemical options under icy conditions.

Comparing Performance:

Each type of de-icer has its advantages and disadvantages regarding ice-melting performance.  

Salt brine for roads tends to provide decent melting capacity at the lowest costs per ton when compared to chemical and organic options.

However, because salt brine has a lower concentration of sodium chloride, higher application rates are needed to achieve the same melting level as pure rock salt.

Chemical de-icers like calcium chloride and potassium acetate typically have the highest melting point temperatures and provide the best melting at icy conditions below 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

But they also tend to be more corrosive and damaging to pavement and vehicles over time.

Chemical options are often the most expensive de-icers per ton.

Organic de-icers made from agricultural byproducts have the lowest environmental impact of the three options since they are more readily biodegradable.

However, organic formulations generally deliver the lowest performance and melting capacity, especially in prolonged cold weather.

Organic products must often be reapplied more frequently and in higher volumes to compensate for their weaker melting abilities.

When comparing de-icer types, the key trade-offs involve balancing the needed ice melting performance, material costs, and impact on infrastructure based on specific weather and road conditions.

Cost Comparisons:

The initial costs per gallon or a ton of material tend to be highest for chemical de-icers and lowest for salt brine and salt products.

Chemical de-icers can cost two to five times more than salt prices per ton since they use concentrated inorganic compounds.

Organic de-icers made from agricultural byproducts generally fall in the middle regarding upfront costs.
However, total operation costs depend on initial material prices and factors like effectiveness, wastage, and application rates.

Less effective products often require higher application volumes to attain the same melting level, raising total costs over time.

Salt brine and salt, while having relatively low salt prices, typically need to be applied at higher rates than chemicals to achieve comparable melting.

Though higher priced on a per ton basis, more concentrated chemical de-icers often require lower application amounts due to their higher melting power.

Overuse of any de-icer can also lead to waste and incur extra costs from damage or unnecessary replenishment.

When considering all factors that impact total costs, differences between de-icer options tend to narrow.

Conclusions:

Salt brine offers reasonable ice melting at lower upfront costs but requires higher application rates.

Even in extreme cold, chemical de-icers provide the most robust melting performance, though they are more expensive and corrosive.

Organic options have the most negligible environmental impact but deliver the weakest overall performance.

There are trade-offs with each de-icer type regarding melting capacity, material costs, and infrastructure impacts.

Choosing the best product depends on an organization's priorities, like desired ice melting performance, budget constraints, and concerns over environmental impacts.

Before committing to one de-icer, agencies should evaluate their specific winter maintenance needs based on weather patterns, traffic levels, and pavement conditions.

Testing different product types on a trial basis can provide valuable information on real-world performance at varying temperatures, application rates, and material costs.

This testing will help determine the optimal de-icer or blend of products to meet an agency's unique objectives and balance of pros and cons.

With due diligence and proper evaluation, the right de-icing choice can be made for long-term effectiveness and value.

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