Lexington will use some magic this winter to keep streets clear of ice.
The city announced Thursday it has bought 300 gallons of a product called Magic Minus Zero for use on a trial basis.
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The brown liquid that smells like sorghum is more environmentally friendly than rock salt because it is less corrosive, and more effective at keeping road surfaces ice-free at lower temperatures, down to 5 degrees above zero.
Magic Minus Zero is a byproduct of distilling rum and vodka, mixed with magnesium chloride. It is added to the ordinary rock salt that is spread on streets.
The result is a less costly and more environmentally friendly way to remove snow and ice, said Leo McMillen, director of the city's division of streets, roads and forestry. It is more expensive than rock salt, but its greater effectiveness makes it worth it.
"This extends our supply of salt because we'll be putting less down on the roads. So there's a savings for the taxpayer," he said.
The city started the winter driving season with about 6,000 tons of, which costs approximately $63 a ton.
It takes about 250 pounds of salt per lane per mile.
The de-icer is $2 to $3 a gallon, depending on the quantity the city buys.
"If the temperature drops into the teens, without the Magic we would have to double the amount of salt to melt the ice on the road," he said. "And it would take longer to get the snow and ice off the roads, because salt doesn't work effectively at those temperatures."
The de-icer has been used throughout the Northeast since the early 1990s, according to Bill Minor, distributor for Magic Salt of Kentuckiana, in Louisville. "It is just coming to Kentucky," he said. Louisville also is using it for the first time this winter.
Rock salt alone works efficiently at melting ice down to 26 degrees, and less efficiently down to 22 degrees. As temperatures drop, "It works, but it takes more of it," McMillan said.
City street crews have spread the Magic salt a couple of times already this winter, including on hilly, curvy roads leading to the Kentucky River. "We've been very pleased with the results," McMillen said.
The de-icing liquid is mixed with salt at the city's salt storage unit on Old Frankfort Pike. "It's not hard to do," McMillen said. Magic Minus Zero also can be applied directly to road surfaces.
"The two advantages of Magic Minus Zero is it takes less rock salt, and once the ice melts, there's no re-freezing as long as our product is on the roadway," Minor said.