Brine Maker Supports Division’s Priority of Safety
Starting last winter, the City of Marshfield Street Division has been using a new method called “anti-icing” to improve safety and efficiency during a snow event (Read more.) Last week, the division finished the installation of a new on-site brine maker to further improve the cost and convenience of anti-icing.
Anti-icing involves the application of a salt brine, beet juice, and a magnesium chloride mixture. Until the new brine maker was installed, the Division had been buying salt brine from Wood County.
“Early on, we realized the benefits of making our own,” said Street Superintendent Mike Winch. “The availability was always a concern because Wood County could only make so much brine an hour and obviously it was for their own use and we got what was left.”
Additionally, technology has advanced to allow for more accurate salt measurements, an important aspect of the anti-icing process.
“Last year, they couldn’t supply enough for the limited amount we were doing,” said Winch. “We decided to look into a more sophisticated automated system.”
Aside from a few infrastructure elements (such as installing a water line at the location, running electricity to the location, adding water drains, and relocating storage tanks), company VariTech Industries installed the rest of the equipment.
The mixing process begins with the brine maker, which is controlled by a computerized “brine boss.” Once the brine is made, the brine boss controls the salinity going into the 4,000-gallon tank and maintains a salinity level of 23.3%.
Adjacent to the salt brine tank is a 3,000-gallon tank of beet juice and a 500-gallon tank of Magnesium Chloride. The latter is seldom used, being added only during especially dry or cold conditions as it lowers the working temperature of the mixture.
Next, the computerized “blend boss,” which is connected to each tank via pipe, mixes the contents of the three tanks as designated by an administrator. Adjustable veins inside the cabinet calibrate to whichever mix needed. The drivers then simply swipe a key tag and fill up their trucks.
All three components (saline, beet juice, magnesium chloride) are continually ready for use, and the mix can even be adjusted in the middle of a snowstorm if needed in the event the storm transitions from dry to wet or vice-versa.
“During the last snow event, we started up the brine maker and by the time the truck got
back, we had enough to fill the truck and there were still 700 gallons left,” said Assistant Street Superintendent Kurt Bornbach. “Previously, we would have had to wait for the hauler to get back from Wood County.”
Along with increasing efficiency, by making their own brine on site, the Street Division has also been reducing costs. Additionally, salt usage has decreased (on average) due to the more accurate computer calibration.
“The overall unit is expected to pay for itself in less than three years,” said Winch.
“With only minimal maintenance of pumps and sensors, the unit has a long lifespan,” added Bornbach.
Though the cost savings are important, the division’s number one priority is always safety. With anti-icing, and now a brine maker on site to facilitate the process, the division is even better able to serve the community.
“Over and above the monetary value is the safety value,” said Winch. “Usually our first call is when it starts to get icy, it’s because trucks are having trouble getting up McMillan or Upham hill. We have to hurry and try to get ahead of the situation. With anti-icing, because those hills are on the route, chances are they’ll have the traction needed to get up the hill.”
Intersections, bridges, and hills are also high-priority areas, and anti-icing keeps them safer.
Residents with winter driving concerns can contact Marshfield Street Division during working hours (Monday-Friday, 7:00am-4:00pm), and Marshfield Police Department dispatch during non-working hours (715-387-4394).
“People do call here, which we appreciate,” said Winch. “They realize we can’t be everywhere at once.”