Specifying the product you want

Kirk Kaiser
EnviroTech Services Inc.

All too often when bidding on liquid deicers we see product specifications that are incomplete. When a product specification is incomplete, the requesting agency will only get the bare minimum of what they are specifying in the bid. In addition, the requesting agency may be getting a number of other things that they do not want!

Let's take a look at this actual bid specification: "4500 gallons of liquid magnesium chloride." Yes, that is the entire bid specification for their liquid material. Take this in contrast to the 40 pages-plus document for liquid deicers the Pacific Northwest Coalition (British Columbia, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington) use at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/fossc/maint/pns/deicespec/99DeicerSpecs.htm.

Ultimately, you need to set your specification for your needs. Keep in mind once again that if you do not specify some characteristic in your deicer, you will most likely not get it. Below we have attempted to address several of the major areas where we typically see shortcoming in specifications.

  • The most important item for any specification is material concentration. This is the primary value that dictates how well the material will perform on the road in terms of melting capacity. In general, the higher the concentration the better. However, make sure to specify the primary mineral and not a general concentration. For instance, take a look at the two concentration specifications below:

1) Minimum 30 percent magnesium chloride solution
2) Minimum magnesium chloride solution 30 percent solids

These two specifications are not equal. What you are interested in is the amount of active ingredient in solution. Unless you are buying a reagent grade or pharmaceutical grade of deicer (and therefore drastically overpaying), there will be other minerals or materials in solution. While these other materials in your deicer solution may not be harmful, they are not what you are after or should be paying for.

Number 1 above correctly states what the purchasing agency is after, a magnesium chloride solution where 30 percent of the volume by weight is magnesium chloride, the remaining material by weight will be water plus other materials or minerals in solution. If there are other materials in solution they do not count towards the minimum concentration of magnesium chloride.

Number 2 above, while it appears like number 1, is actually VERY different. Do not allow a vendor to talk you into writing a specification like this. Magnesium chloride is the melting agent you desire and are paying for. The other materials in solution can be considered filler-even if they have some melting capability such as potassium or sodium chloride, they are much lesser-performing deicers and ultimately take away from the melting capacity if replacing magnesium chloride. A material that is 25 percent magnesium chloride, 2 percent sodium chloride, 2.5 percent sulfate, and 1 percent potassium chloride will pass the specification number 2, but not specification number 1. If you stack up this material versus a 30 percent magnesium chloride material, the 25 percent magnesium chloride will melt considerably less snow/ice at all temperatures than the 30 percent magnesium chloride material.

  • Material fallout is another key specification that should be placed in all liquid specifications. A dust grade or unrefined liquid will be stable at warm temperatures. It is when the temperature of the liquid drops that you will experience fallout with inferior materials. This fallout occurs in your nozzles, hose lines, and truck tanks rendering these units obsolete for the snowstorm until they can be cleaned out and put back into service. The standard throughout the industry is that there must be less than 1 percent settleable solids after the material has been stored for 168 hours at 0( F. All of these solids must also pass a 40 mesh screen so as not to clod the filters or nozzles on equipment.
  • Just as important as what you want in your deicing solution is also what you do not want in this solution. Some brine sources are produced as byproduct streams of metals such as titanium. Several of these products contain a considerable amount of heavy metals and some even contain a small percentage of radioactive isotopes. Other materials can be pulled from wells drilled in the earth and may contain other harmful elements that may have been naturally occurring or leached into the brine source. If there is no specification about meeting water quality or heavy metal standards, and the material meets specifications, then they can be bid. These standards will vary from state to state based on state and local regulations.

  • Corrosion inhibitors have also become a part of most agencies' specifications. There are thousands of corrosion inhibitors on the market today. However, most of these inhibitors are not suited for use as a deicer for a road application as they are oil based (oil and water do not mix), contain phosphates (very harmful for water), are not soluble in water (will not dissipate), contain heavy metals, etc.

Make sure when specifying your inhibitor that you set a level of protection that you desire such as less corrosive than tap water or 70 percent less corrosive than salt. If you do not set the level, you are looking for almost anything that can be considered a corrosion inhibitor and at any amount. For instance, milk is less corrosive than calcium chloride. If an agency simply specifies that a corrosion inhibitor must be added to their calcium chloride, a vendor could take one gallon of milk per 4500 gallons of calcium chloride and has legally met the requirements. However, this did not accomplish anything and has probably made it whereby another vendor that spent the money to inhibit his calcium chloride has lost the bid.

The second thing to make sure is that the corrosion inhibitor has been preapproved in some fashion. One agency learned the hard way when the vendor they were using called up a chemical company and requested an inhibitor. The inhibitor turned out to be oil based and everywhere their liquid truck went the accidents followed-all at slightly above freezing, too.

The above items are what all liquid deicer specifications should include. Your situation will dictate the levels at which the parameters should be set. There is also no need to recreate the wheel in writing specifications. Contact us and we can refer you to agencies which have solid specification (some of which learned the hard way).

With quality specifications everyone wins-well, except maybe the unscrupulous vendor. Once you know the specifications you want in place, the next step is to develop the testing methods which you will utilize.

Kirk Kaiser can be reached at 913-894-1643 or at Kaiser@envirotechservices.com.