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    Compact blending systems are stand-alone units that serve multiple functions, such as blending winter liquids, or loading and unloading truck liquid systems. The pictured system above (external view is below) costs $12,000 versus multipump systems requiring buildings and extensive plumbing systems, which can exceed $30,000. To get started, consult an organization that specializes in onsite blending training and development. Staff can be trained to blend winter liquids in as little as half a day. Photos: Harvey Williams

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    McHenry County, located in northern Illinois, sees its share of snow and ice. In 2005, the county DOT teamed with Concept to Project Management LLC to develop a liquid blending system that blends up to four chemicals, produces brine, and dispenses any one product individually. The result is the custom blending manifold system pictured above.Here's how it works: When blending, chemicals flow to a manifold of valves. They are monitored by a flow meter and controlled by valves as they are pumped to a tank. For instance, 100 gallons/minute of salt brine flows to the tank, which is clearly indicated on the flow meter. A valve is opened and 10 gallons/minute (or 10%) of Geo-melt anti-/de-icer is pumped in at the same time. Five gallons/minute or (5%) of calcium chloride is added. The result is a super mix of 85% salt brine, 10% Geo-melt, and 5% calcium chloride. Operators can adjust the percentage of each chemical in the mixture as desired, and the system agitates the mix every few days.The blended mix provides a single product with the benefits and characteristics of all three liquids that outperforms the individual products.Photo: Harvey Williams

Some agencies buy pretreated salt; others apply liquids to the salt at the time of delivery before storing it. Many advise applying additional liquids during storm operations. The method of pre-wetting and the location of the application point vary considerably.

For high-volume applications, many mangers advocate applying liquid in the controlled environment of the auger in an under-tailgate spreader, which achieves a pug mill type of mix. The process of multiple spray points and elevations in a V-body spreader chute also improves product mixing and provides consistent application. Manufacturers of spreader control systems now match the speed of the vehicle to the desired spread and liquids application rate as determined by the operator.

High-volume liquid systems can also be combined with roller systems that spread slurry, further reducing lost granular material. This process uses less salt while taking advantage of inexpensive site-produced liquids.

ONSITE BLENDING = COST SAVINGS

Winter liquids have evolved from the choice of three or four single-component products to blends of multiple components. Some manufacturers promote their products as effective in severe-cold conditions, while others emphasize “green” qualities.

The key when evaluating a product is to ask, “What will provide the level of service desired for the conditions present?” Cost and availability must also be factored as well as the environmental and infrastructure impacts.

Every storm event is different, and conditions — i.e., temperature, precipitation, type of storm event — drive which product or blend best fits. For example, multi-product liquid blends of 85% salt brine, 10% agricultural protein, and 5% calcium chloride are used extensively in the Midwest because the recipe has proved successful for the region's typical pavement temperature ranges of 18° to 32° F. But this blend may not be so effective in colder temperature ranges with different humidity levels, and it would definitely be overkill in warmer regions. The key is using the right product or blend at the right time.

Although agencies can purchase pre-blended liquids, onsite blending provides flexibility and cost savings. Transportation costs are higher for ready-to-use winter liquid products, as most are diluted. With concentrations varying from 23% to 55%, you are basically paying for water. Agencies that blend onsite can get more product for their buck by purchasing higher-concentrated products using state, county, and city agreements, locking in price and delivery dates.

Onsite production systems pay back in two to three seasons, with the service life directly related to routine maintenance. Onsite production of 23% brine (including equipment, labor, and materials) routinely falls in the range of 6 to 14 cents/gallon.

Whatever product or blend you're considering, review the product for certification with an organization such as the Pacific Northwest Snowfighters (PNS). These organizations ensure that consistent testing protocol and practices are used to provide nonbiased statistics. PNS documentation will assure you of product performance, corrosiveness, handling practices, and environmental impact.

No one product, or blend of products, will fit all your needs and funding. Extremes will take place that are well outside your plan. One of the products you have on hand — that may routinely be a component in your blended-product operation —may be the single product that best addresses the conditions present.

— Williams is a retired Illinois DOT field technician and co-author of IDOT's practices and procedure manual on liquids for snow/ice control. He owns Concept to Project Management, a design-build consulting firm, and presents winter operations seminars for public agencies nationwide.

Plan ahead

How to move from being “storm fighters” to “event managers.”

Developing a combined approach of blended winter liquids, trained staff, storm management practices, and proper equipment reduces costs by about a third.

When developing a service level plan for winter maintenance, review the history of pavement temperatures, types of precipitation, inches of snow received, and average number of events per year. This helps determine how many pounds of salt will be needed to melt a determined amount of snow for the upcoming season.

Add the service target — for instance, to have arterial roadways clear at all times and enough snow removed from residential roads to maintain public safety — to generate parameters for determining how many and what kinds of trucks, plows, end loaders, de-icing products, liquid and granular products, and staffing are needed in a particular situation. Don't forget meteorological services that provide a blueprint of what to expect with each storm.

After all your investigation, remember that you must also have salt storage equal to a full season's average needs.