Leading voices in the winter service sector have reported an unmistakable shift in recent years towards liquid de-icers. They may still be in the minority when it comes to winter service de-icing but they are being used more and more, whether it is for winter service highways applications in general, or for a more targeted use on bridges to prevent salt corrosion.
We spoke to the managing director of Safecote - one of the leading suppliers of liquid solutions among other winter service products - Mark Dutton. Mr Dutton is not shy…about anything, least of all the fact that Safecote has been working towards creating this current trend for many years. However just as the sector was not standing still, nor was Mr Dutton, and on the way he learned a thing or two about best practice from around the world.
Q. What new products will you be showing at Cold Comfort this year?
‘There are a number of new products that we are launching this year but unfortunately Cold Comfort has come round a little bit early for one or two of them.
‘We do have products that were launched this year and will be new to this Cold Comfort. The first one is the Snow Shield, which is a snow plough designed for cycle ways and pathways. It hooks on to a standard sack truck and is hand-pushed and so is similar in outlook to a snow shovel although it probably clears snow at ten times the speed and has ten times the life of a snow shovel. That will be on our stand this year, also we will be continuing to expand our product offering with regards to ready to use de-icing liquids.
Q. Is there a cultural change happening on liquid de-icing?
Liquid de-icing is something that we have been pushing here at Safecote for over five years. It is not something new to us. I think others have recognised over the last year or two that the market is growing.
‘We have seen significant growth in our sales of ready to use liquid de-icers over the past four or five years and we continue to win new business. It is still a technology that I think a lot of people out there are either scared of or perhaps don’t fully understand.
North America utilises liquid technology much more than we do in the UK. The European market is certainly starting to invest heavily in liquids. Although I don’t believe the UK are at that level yet it is continuing to expand the use of them, albeit in specific areas. Liquids are mostly used in the UK for pedestrian areas, pavements, cycleways and of course for bridge structures because some of the liquids on offer are significantly less corrosive than a chloride, whether it be solid salt or salt brine. However that is not something new in the UK because liquids have been used on certain types of structures for a number of years.
'What we have seen over recent years is that technology has expanded in terms of usage. So where authorities are looking to go into pavement de-icing or cycleway de-icing they are now seeing liquids as a more effective and cost-beneficial way of treating those parts of their network as opposed to spreading straight salt.
‘In North America and certain European countries they see liquids as their core de-icing product for highways. I don’t think we are anywhere near that level yet in the UK.’
Q. What are the concerns clients have highlighted about liquids and what are the answers to those concerns?
‘My view is that from an operational perspective UK plc needs to make a huge investment to enable authorities to operate at a much higher level with liquid de-icing than they are at the moment. That is investment in large storage units, potentially brine production units but also new equipment to apply a liquid to the road surface as opposed to a solid, or a solid and liquid mix such as pre-wetted salt, which is what the UK has traditionally done for a number of years. It is a mentality issue, I think, for people to get over. There are cost implications from a capital investment point of view as well, however the pay back is definitely there to invest in liquid and achieve long-term costs benefits.
‘We have spent a number of years travelling the world looking at the best practice on snow and ice clearing including liquid de-icing. In Europe and North America people have looked to invest to save, to convince their financial departments that while there may be a large up front investment the pay back from liquids is short-term and it’s a pay back that is year-on-year. People need to look at it from a holistic perspective. The ability to save is enormous.
Q. Is it worth reaching out to other departments/sectors to help make such transitional arrangements if savings can be made?
‘Absolutely, it’s not just a case of asking how does it affect the winter service practitioner’s budget. In winter service we should ask what the potential benefits for other stakeholders within the authority are – from asset protection, environment and of course road safety.’
Q. What are the areas of winter service where the UK can improve compared to colleagues overseas?
‘We have really pushed forward in winter service in the last ten or 15 years, but there are areas where we would be improving even more. There is a lot of money being invested in cycleways. If people are being encouraged to get out of their car on a bike they need to be able to get to work on that bike in winter as well as summer.
‘People need to focus on how those cycle ways are going to be kept free of ice and snow. On the continent they are treated exactly the same way roads are. Here we build cycleways but don’t necessarily have the joined up thinking to keep then open in winter.
Q. What about digital innovations, do think a game change is round the corner?
‘We have made great strides forward on the use of the Internet in our industry in recent years. Local government should be applauded for its communication with the public. I think they are making a great leap forward and embracing it. But in terms of the holy grail of freezing point forecasting, so we know the exact moment to go out gritting, I am not aware that we are in a groundbreaking position.’
Q. What is you take on Appendix H so far?
‘Appendix H is a fantastic piece of work that the NWSRG should take great pride from. One of the factors with Appendix H that people are now starting to appreciate is that the most cost effective way to get rid of snow off the road surface is to plough to black, with the right plough and the right plough blade. Authorities across the country have taken on the message and made it work for them.
‘The cheapest way to get snow off a road surface is to plough it off, get your blade on the ground and plough it off. Appendix H is the first document in winter service that states local authorities should put the plough blade on the surface previously they were told to leave around a quarter to half an inch of snow behind and let the salt or de-icer clear that snow. Ploughing to black means the de-icer works immediately because it gets to the road surface but it also means you are using less de-icer.
‘As with everything it is a living document and we need to ensure that Appendix H evolves as new learning, new technology and new products come into the market and are proven to be beneficial in whatever way that is.
‘I am sure it will be updated in the not too distant future and that is necessary, but only when there is something meaningful to update it with. It needs to be new learning and technology that drive the change.’