When Kevin Goldfuss takes a deep breath these days he catches a distinct smell wafting up from the roads in Williams Lake where the small town is testing a beet-juice anti-icing solution.
"It does have a smell to it. It's kind of like caramel. It smells like a Tootsie Roll," said Mr. Goldfuss, director of municipal services for the city, 550 kilometres north of Vancouver, which scrapes an average annual snowfall of 192 centimetres from its streets.
In an attempt to better deal with the snow and ice that builds up on the roads, and to cut down on the use of salt and sand, Williams Lake in December began to experiment with Beet 55, a slightly sticky mix of sugar-beet juice and saline. It's brown and doesn't stain.
"We put down 33,000 litres just before Christmas," Mr. Goldfuss said Thursday. "I'm really pleased with the difference so far."
The product, which is increasingly finding its way onto roads across Canada and the U.S., was recommended to him by VSA Highway Maintenance Ltd., which has been using it on the Coquihalla Highway.
Mr. Goldfuss said it's too early to say yet whether the product will save Williams Lake money, but he's hoping for that – and a lighter environmental footprint.
"There should be a cost saving for us," he said. "The more sand you put out, the more has got to be cleaned up [in the spring]. You've got to sweep it all up and carry it away."
Mr. Goldfuss said Beet 55 uses far less salt, which can wash off roads and pollute streams.
"There's a lot of salt that's got to be applied [to keep roads safe] and that [pollution] is an issue all over North America," he said.
Mr. Goldfuss said Beet 55 is sprayed on roads before a snowstorm arrives and it creates a thin layer that stops the snow from bonding with the road surface.
"When it snows and the traffic gets on the roads it packs and packs and packs [until] you are on ice," he said. "With this treatment, it doesn't let that bond form. When we come in and plow the snow away, we're basically down to a bare road surface again."
The City of Merritt, which is located on the Coquihalla Highway about 270 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, began experimenting with the product last year.
"It's a great product under the right conditions," said Darrell Finnigan, the city's public works superintendent. "It's not the cure-all to end all, but when used properly it really benefits what we do."
He said it is at its best when spread on a dry road in advance of a snowstorm.
Mr. Finnigan said the city is using 40-per-cent less salt on the road because of the beet juice, and has also greatly reduced the amount of sand spread on streets.
And he agreed the reduction in salt is good for the environment.
"Our community is surrounded by rivers. Every storm drain runs to a river, so the less salt we use, the better," he said.
Beet 55 and similar natural anti-icing products have been finding increasing use across North America.
When beet juice was first used in Chicago streets, in 2009, then-mayor Richard Daley said the solution wasn't as corrosive as the heavy salt-based product it replaced, which was eating away at concrete, creating potholes.
Montreal started using a beet-juice anti-icing agent in 2010, Ottawa in 2011 and Toronto has been using it during the recent cold snap because it is effective at extremely low temperatures.