Move over, salt! A new eco-friendly deicer that uses fruit is in the works

SEATTLE -- Winter weather and cold temperatures make for a perfect recipe for ice on the roads. The go-to ingredient to melt it is usually sodium chloride, or road salt.

While it's an effective treatment, chloride and other chemical deicers aren't environmentally friendly. They can have a damaging impact to cars, concrete, asphalt, and adjacent water bodies.

Researchers at Washington State University cooked up a greener concoction using grape skins and other agricultural waste.

"I developed technology that could derive green chemicals out of waste materials. Grape skins, like other agricultural byproduct or waste products, are feedstock. We don't use it directly. Instead, it's chemically and biologically broken down by bacteria," said WSU Associate Professor Xianming Shi.

The result is a naturally fermented solution that enhances the performance of salt brine. The blend melts ice quicker than traditional deicers and reduces damage to concrete and asphalt because it uses less of the damaging salt.

"So you still need the salt, but we end up using less salt. So the traditional deicer has roughly 23% of salt in the solution by weight. We have 18.5%," said Shi.

The culinary creation is also a safer alternative to beet juice, a common additive which can deplete oxygen from adjacent water bodies and threaten aquatic life.

The technology has also proven effective on other wastes.

"That's the beauty of this technology. We end up with a platform technology where we could take different wastes. In the past, we've tried the skin of apples, peony leaves, dandelion all sorts of unusual waste materials and they tend to give you valuable green chemials," added Shi.

The technology is also cost-effective because it uses waste materials and produces no waste, and doesn't require heating costs like traditional deicers. The team is in the process of perfecting the solution and hopes to move the research from the lab to the real market.