Primer on the Use of Magnesium Chloride as an Ice Prevention Tool
Magnesium Chloride (or Mag as we call it) has been commonly used as a de-icing and anti-icing agent for roads and parking lots for over 8 years. Mag is sold commercially by several wholesale dealers across the US snow belt. It is an odorless, not quite clear liquid solution with a viscosity resembling whole milk. Different suppliers blend in various anti-corrosion or temperature lowering additives to achieve the exact end in mind.
Mag can be sprayed directly on snow or ice as a snow/ice melt solution with very low corrosion and environmentally friendly enough to not require any warning labels. It can be used as a wetting agent for dry material such as sand or calcium chloride pellets. It’s most common use, however, is as an anti-icing, pre-storm treatment. That is where its best use for the snowplow contractor is, and what we shall detail here.
We got started in anti-icing when our largest snowplowing customer came to us asked if we could do something to cut back on the build up of hard pack and ice in the high traffic areas of their lot. (the customer was the largest medical center in the area) Accidents, both auto and pedestrian and the potential lawsuits were the motivation. We were doing a good job plowing with bare blade edges on nice, smooth asphalt surface, so we could not change the plowing method easily. We experimented with calcium chloride mixed with sodium chloride (salt) put down with a lawn spreader a day before a predicted storm. The results were an improvement but still not what we hoped for. We attended the Western Snow and Ice conference sponsored by the American Public Works Association, on another business venture. There, we met the concept of liquid ice prevention and Mag for the first time. There are several liquid ice prevention solutions on the market, but the most cost effective was the Mag. We did some extra research via a friend in the Colorado Dept. of Transportation. (CDOT) We also soaked up all their technical white papers, as well as the vendor’s literature. It became obvious that Mag was a good option.
To convince ourselves, we bought a 5 gallon bucket of the same solution that CDOT was using. We got a hand sprayer and put it on a section of the medical center’s parking lot the night before a storm. We put it on at the coverage the vendor told us would work. The results were good, better in fact than the calcium chloride/salt we had used, but still not quite what we were looking for. Another test was set up but with a 50% higher concentration applied. That test was a complete success. The snow when plowed came up completely, leaving only black, clean pavement behind. No little skiff of snow left at all. (this was a warm fall storm of 4 inches with air temp just above freezing as we plowed) Even if the area is driven on before plowing, it does not pack into the surface and become ice. The Mag acts like a “Teflon” coating to keep the snow from sticking, packing hard, and becoming ice. It is very effective in high traffic areas or shady spots. It is not for use on dirt roads, but is safe for asphalt, concrete, or recycled asphalt. (concrete must be over a year old for any de-icer use)
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We then started to look at the business case. We had a good truck that would hold the tank, so we needed a tank and pump system with spray nozzles. We needed a yard tank to hold several fills of the truck. We needed a method to get the Mag out of the yard tank and into the truck tank. We figured out our cost of the solution to do the medical center at the increased concentration, based on the square footage of the lot and access. There had to be enough markup to make it worthwhile, but keep the cost down so the customer would go for it. Our price came up just a little less than the cost of plowing the same area, based on between $.55 and $.70 per gallon delivered. Spray density was set at about 1 gallon for 200 square feet, and charges based on $5 per 1000 square feet. We sold it to 2 major customers on a trial basis, so a business was born. The profitability comes in that you can schedule the spray jobs several days before a storm at low traffic times. Mag has an on–the-ground life of at least 2 weeks, assuming no real precipitation. It also works well down to –10 F.
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There are several things we would do differently to start with. We would order the truck mount system from someone who has experience with Mag. (see dealer list at the end) We would start with “rain drop” type spray nozzles or else one of the new monster nozzles called a boom-buster. The first set of nozzles was too prone to misting, and we lost a lot of solution in a little breeze. Our yard tank is 1500 gallons, which is enough for half to 2/3 of the season. Adjust the size of yard tank according to solution availability and number of customers. We usually get our solution delivered the same week we order. We recommend that the truck tank be an oval design with as low a profile as possible. Mag weighs 11 lbs. per gallon, so when you get 120 gallons sloshing around, it is very noticeable and can be dangerous if your center of gravity is too high. We also found that using a small electric pump to fill the truck tank is easier than trying to use the truck mounted pump. Plan on putting a screen type filter on the input side of your loading pump to protect it and get only clean solution into the truck. Spend the money for a good mini light bar. You will likely be working at night and you need to be seen. The truck should match the tank. Use a ¾ ton full size truck for 200 gallon tank. Use a 1 ton for a 350 gallon tank. Our spray truck is also our largest plow truck. Do not exceed the GVWR of your truck with the combo of the full tank and the plow. Add extra backup lights and the rig is set.
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One last thought. A good supplier will make you or break you. His ability to deliver in a timely fashion can be the key to your survival. If you have a local municipality that uses Mag, find out who the supplier is. We piggy-backed our promotion on the success of Colorado DOT in our area saying we use the same solution. We also can get a small load when they come to the area to bring CDOT a large load. Our customers like the effectiveness of Mag, and we continue to pick up a customer or two each year we are in business without aggressive promotion.
Envirotech Services- http://www.etsvcs.com or 1-800-369-3878 (Mag solution, truck spray systems, and yard tanks)
Kois Brother Eqpt- http://www.koisbrothers.com/ (truck tanks and spray systems)
Schoenberg Salt (east coast) http://www.gosalt.com/deicing.htm (Mag solution)
Reilly Industries 1-800-533-0341 (Mag solution)
Dow Chemical Liquid Armor 1-800-447-4369 (Mag solution)
MacDonald Equipment 1-800-748-2489 (Colorado) (truck spray systems)
Dultmeier Sales- http://dultmeier.com (pumps, nozzles fittings etc)
Other Ice prevention chemicals:
Article Written by:
Scott Zorno of Care Enterprises, Bailey, Colorado
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