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At a glance
K-Tech Specialty Coatings Inc.
Business: The company blends and sells a road de-icer made from beet molasses. The finished product also contains four chlorides. The company also makes asphalt sealing products.
Parent company: The Klink Group
Founded: 2008
Location: 111 W. Garfield St., Ashley
Employees: About 10
2013 revenue: Not disclosed
Photos by Chad Ryan | The Journal Gazette
Dean Shipe, left, is the brewmaster who mixes the raw materials that make up Beet Heet, and Al Milleman is a driver who delivers the Beet Heet, an ice-melting product made by Ashley-based K-Tech Specialty Coatings Inc.

Beet Heet beats icy roads

Solution with vegetable juice helps de-ice streets in lower temps

Shown in concentrate form, Beet Heet has sold 1.3 million units since Oct. 1.

When the roads are a frozen nightmare and authorities are advising folks to stay home, Paul Barnett’s team gets to work.

As public works manager for Akron, Ohio, Barnett oversees crews that make roads safer by spreading rock salt on the streets and interstates within city limits.

This is the third winter that their routine in temperatures below 20 degrees has included spraying roads with a solution containing Beet Heet, a de-icer made by K-Tech Specialty Coatings Inc. in Ashley.

“It works really well,” Barnett said.

Sales of the relatively new product have heated up as this winter’s temperatures have plummeted, sales manager Denver Preston said. In Beet Heet’s entire first season, the company sold about 30,000 gallons. This season, the product’s third, K-Tech has sold more than 1.3 million gallons since Oct. 1.

The company’s customer list now includes 175 municipal agencies in about 15 states, including Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Results have been so impressive that even South Korean officials have taken notice. A delegation from the Asian country recently toured K-Tech’s DeKalb County plant.

The city of PyeongChang in South Korea has been selected host city of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in 2018. Officials there are considering using Beet Heet to keep streets safe for visitors during the games.

“It’s exciting,” product specialist Dave Tribolet said. “But we’re not sure that it will actually happen.”

How it works

In the meantime, there are plenty of U.S. roads to keep clean and dry.

Clearing winter roads isn’t quite as easy as it looks. Plows can push away piles of snow, but crews also need to deal with ice.

For years, road crews have applied rock salt to pavements to melt ice and compacted snow. Why does it work? When water mixes with salt, water’s freezing point falls below its normal 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

But if the road’s temperature is lower than 15 degrees, salt won’t affect ice because it can’t penetrate the solid layer to start dissolving it.

Laboratory tests have found that Beet Heet doesn’t freeze until the temperature is below minus 20 degrees – or 40 degrees lower than the freezing point of a 10 percent salt solution, Tribolet said.

K-Tech received positive feedback from all its customers after the recent bitter cold, Preston said.

“There was a little part of us that was wondering were we going to pull through,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, we didn’t have one failure.”

Akron crews spread rock salt on the road and then sprayed a solution of 20 percent Beet Heet and 80 percent salt brine, Barnett said.

Beet molasses is sticky, which is key to its success, he said.

Typically, 60 percent of rock salt bounces off the edge of a road as it’s being spread, Barnett said. But when salt is paired with a Beet Heet mixture, the bounce-off rate drops to 20 percent because salt adheres to the sticky mixture.

Using significantly less salt can save considerable cash for a municipality that budgets more than $2 million a year for rock salt, Barnett said. One ton of rock salt can cost $70 or more.

Not only does his department use less salt, but it can save 25 percent on fuel, manpower and vehicle maintenance, too, if crews can effectively do the job with three passes over roads instead of four.

How itís made

Beet Heet contains beet molasses, which is created during the process that extracts and discards everything but sugar from sugar beets.

The granulated sugar in your kitchen pantry was originally found in either sugar cane or sugar beets.

Sugar beets are transported to a processing center, where the vegetables are sliced thinly. Hot water is forced through the beets.

The sugary liquid is then filtered and boiled to create syrup.

Sugar dust is added to spur crystal formation. Centrifuges spin the mixture to separate sugar crystals from the remaining liquid. The crystals are dried, then packed and shipped to consumers or customers such as soft drink makers.

Beet juice is one of the first byproducts removed during the process. K-Tech’s first foray into de-icer products was one that contained beet juice.

But the company’s researchers determined that sugar is the critical element that makes ice melt, so they decided to switch to beet molasses, which has higher concentration of sugar.

Dirt and beet pulp are also removed in early processing stages, so beet molasses doesn’t contain them. K-Tech staff likes to highlight that fact, because their product is less likely to clog the nozzles on road-clearing equipment.

Akron’s Barnett tried a beet juice de-icer but stopped using it after it clogged the city’s equipment.

K-Tech blends Beet Heet in six 21,000-gallon-batch tanks at its Ashley plant. All the raw materials – including beet molasses and four chlorides – come from Michigan suppliers.

Sister company Klink Trucking delivers Beet Heet, with 90 percent of loads delivered within 24 hours, Preston said. That allows customers to order only as much as they need in the short term – freeing up cash and storage space for other needs.

How itís sold

Tribolet, the product specialist, is an active part of the sales effort.

“It’s a new product, and we’ve had to work really hard to educate people,” he said.

Barnett, who has engineering experience, networks with other public works officials to learn from their mistakes with new products.

“I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a mayor who is very progressive,” Barnett said. “In some administrations, they don’t want you to do anything differently. There’s a lot of people who are hesitant to change.”

Preston, K-Tech’s sales manager, said multiple layers of government officials typically have to sign off on a purchase of this kind.

“You’d be surprised how political things get,” he said. “It’s interesting how these agencies work. It’s been a bit frustrating sometimes.”

In northeast Indiana, Warsaw and Decatur use Beet Heet.

Lacy Francis Jr., Warsaw’s superintendent of public works, has been in his position more than 20 years. He’s a satisfied Beet Heet customer.

“At the street department, you get all kinds of salesmen coming in and saying, ‘I can do this for you’ and ‘I can do that for you,’ ” he said.

Preston acknowledged that his industry has some bad apples.

“When it comes to liquid de-icer, the term ‘snake oil’ is thrown around a lot,” he said, adding that some companies make grandiose claims about what their products can do.

“There is a good reason for people to be reluctant,” he said, to try de-icer products.