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How Grape Skins Make Roads Safer

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What if the answer to winter road maintenance lied in simple and common fruits?  Researchers are turning towards a more sustainable choice for deicers (road salts) to help control roads during the winter season—and they’re looking in an unlikely place:  agricultural waste.

A team of researchers from Washington State University has found an environmentally-friendly solution to traditional road deicer, which normally is composed of sodium chloride mixed with chemicals that do not degrade well in the environment.  Some of the chemicals that are used are corrosive to road materials, such as asphalt and concrete.

Instead, researchers offer a solution which both solves the problem of being able to maintain roads during the winter season in a non-damaging method; and also makes use of agricultural waste that is also building up from manufacturing processes.  It’s grape extract.

Grape extract works better than traditional road salts, but it’s not the first time that an agricultural product has been tested for winter road maintenance.  Beet juice has also been added to conventional road salts to reduce the corrosive qualities of the chemical deicers, but beet juice can pose problems when it runs off into bodies of water.  Unfortunately, the beet juice depletes the oxygen in the water and can threaten marine life.

The grape extract used for deicer is produced through using grape skins which are naturally fermented and then chemically degraded.  The extract boasts the ability to melt ice faster and preserve road materials better than traditional road salts.  Unlike the beet juice which can harm water sources and marine life, the grape extract carries a much smaller risk.

The research team was headed by associate professor Xianming Shi who devised the grape skin additive.  Shi also worked for the Alaska Department of Transportation on a similar project to find alternatives to chemical deicers, and the idea followed working on salt brine deicer additives.  Shi and his team have also been able to recycle agricultural waste through Shi’s fermentation and degradation process and have successfully used peony leaves, dandelion leaves, sugar beet leaves, and apples to create effective, natural additives for road deicers.

References

Nazari, Mehdi Honarvarar, and Xianming Shi. “Developing Renewable Agro-Based Anti-Icers for Sustainable Winter Road Maintenance Operations.” Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering, vol. 31, no. 12, Dec. 2019, https://ascelibrary.org/doi/10.1061/(ASCE)MT.1943-5533.0002963.

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