High up in the mountains, somewhere in Hungary, a man took a break from his job at a distillery one winter day. "He stepped outside and wondered why a nearby stream had not frozen over," relates Ray Marshall, assistant to the president, Ice Ban America Inc. (IBA).
Driven by curiosity, his observations led him to conduct an investigation. He discovered that the distillery disposed its waste by-products in the stream. It was this by-product which prevented the stream from freezing.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Hungarian entrepreneurs brought this discovery to the West. The founders of IBA, North Palm Beach, Fla., bought the patent. After roadway and laboratory studies and tests, they developed a product called Ice Ban, which is now offered here in the U.S.
Ice Ban is the registered trade name of a group of agricultural by-products. These by-products consist of such things as corn distillers solubles, brewers condensed solubles, vintners condensed solubles, condensed corn processors steep liquor and the condensed liquid component from the production of cheese from milk. The actual product in its raw form appears similar to molasses in color and consistency, but has a much lower viscosity.
It is produced by many major agricultural processors such as Kraft, Minnesota Corn Processors (MCP), Anheuser Busch and Cargill, to name a few. Early in the development stage MCP supplied IBA with product for testing.
MCP is a large farmer-owned cooperative, which processes corn at two main locations: Marshall, Minn., and Columbus, Neb. They are one of the largest corn processors in the U.S., with the potential to supply approximately 700,000 tons of the product.
The development of the product is expected to give a great boost to corn growers as they gain another market for their crops.
But corn growers are not the only ones to benefit from the new product.
"Most of the Ice Ban product comes from processing corn. We can also use the waste by-product created from brewing beer, making wine or cheese or distilling alcohol/ethanol," explains Marshall.
Before the discovery of the ice inhibiting qualities of these waste products they were just that, waste, of which the producer had to pay to dispose.
"Before this time the corn processors either paid to dispose of it or sold it as a low grade cattle feed additive. It has been in our food chain all our lives. Now we buy it from the processors, giving it a value added quality for the benefit of the farmers," says Marshall.
Its edible qualities have been demonstrated. Marshall explains, "At our annual meeting we made chili out of Ice Ban. We had well over 100 people eating it."
Because of environmental restrictions many states are limited to what they can use to melt snow and ice. The use of salt, for instance, has been banned or restricted in many states. Instead these states must use either sand or gravel to provide traction on the icy pavements. Other options include using calcium chloride or magnesium chloride as a deicer or anti-icer, instead of salt.
However, many states must clean up the sand and gravel within a set period of time from when it is spread. This is done to prevent the material from being washed into nearby rivers or streams, where it could cause a sediment problem.
Chloride salts can damage roadways and contributes to corrosion. In 1993 the National Research Council published a report on chemical de-icing agents in which they stated, "A substitute or alternative chemical de-ice can easily be 10 times as costly as rock salt, may require higher ratios of application to achieve comparable control of snow and ice, and may in addition be the source of operational difficulties."
During tests conducted in upstate New York, streams near the test roads were monitored for runoff concentrations and biological oxygen demand impacts. The impacts were negligible or non-detectable. There was no detectable effect on fish or animals, and it did not significantly stimulate aquatic plant growth.
Testing in Indiana, Nebraska, Colorado and Washington state confirmed this. The testing also concluded that it had no toxic or detrimental effect to roadside vegetation and is not corrosive. In fact, it has been shown to act as an anti-corrosive agent. Used in salt mixtures, it reduces salt corrosion.
In a letter George Janke, president of IBA, writes, "Independent laboratory testing including Washington DOT has shown that when the product is used in mixtures with chloride salts the salt corrosion is dramatically reduced. In fact some states have tested and approved the product as a salt corrosion inhibitor."
When tested on already-rusted steel the product appeared to arrest or completely stop further rusting action on the tested steel.
However, one initial drawback is the cost. The product is more expensive than chloride salts. But the company claims that the product reduces the direct total cost of de-icing, so there is an eventual cost saving over time.
The product has other benefits over calcium chloride or magnesium chloride. Marshall explains, "If you spray magnesium chloride or calcium chloride on the road it runs off because of its low viscosity, somewhat like water. The Ice Ban product is more viscous causing it to remain on the actual roadway and do its job. It also penetrates right through a snow pack.
"If you have a snow pack on the highway and you use calcium chloride or magnesium chloride it works initially, it melts like crazy. However, as the snow melts, it causes dilution and loses its potency, thus preventing complete penetration. As evening comes it freezes, and now you have an ice pack. Ice Ban will penetrate right through the snow pack breaking it into slush, which is easily plowed away."
The product also is said to be effective to 40 degrees below zero. It remains on the road after melting the snow and will adhere to the surface if the run-off is slow. Then it will re-activate when the next snow occurs, and at much lower temperatures.
This re-activation quality makes it effective as an anti-icer. When applied to a road surface as an anti-icer, it adheres to the surface and dries if snow, icing or rain does not occur. It reconstitutes in solution at the first snow.
Because the product is a liquid it can be sprayed as a wetting agent on dry salt, sand or other anti-skid agents.
The product has been undergoing testing for the last three years. The American Association of Civil Engineers Research Foundation has an associated organization called the Highway Innovative Technological Evaluation Council (HITEC) to test and evaluate new highway technology and products. HITEC is in the process of completing tests.
In addition the EPA's verification program, EvTEC, will soon complete a technical evaluation of the product, with emphasis on its environmental performance.
These tests have been promising and IBA states that interest in its product has been overwhelming.