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Release: June 26, 2002

UI, Cargill explore protecting the environment from road salt

University of Iowa researchers are studying a novel technology for isolating road salt from the environment with the goal of helping cities and small towns save money while protecting the environment.

The technology -- designed to protect piles of deicing salt from snow or rain run-off and patented by Cargill's Deicing Technology business -- recently was donated to the University of Iowa Research Foundation for further study.

"Cargill is pleased to partner with the University of Iowa. This patented process is one that we believe will have environmental and inventory management attributes for those who store deicing salt in the state of Iowa," said Dale Fehrenbach, business unit leader for Cargill Deicing Technology. Cargill is a major supplier of deicing salt that is applied to improve safety on highways in Iowa and throughout the United States and Canada.

Wilfrid Nixon, professor in the University of Iowa College of Engineering department of civil and environmental engineering and research engineer at IIHR -- Hydroscience and Engineering, says the generous gift of new technology, which involves spraying salt piles with thin layers of liquid or foamed concrete, has the potential to be more cost-effective than conventional technology.

"During the next year or so, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to issue stringent storm water regulations involving road salt for cities of less than 100,000 people. Compared to the current methods of protecting piles of road salt, cement cap technology likely is more effective than using a haphazard collection of tarps and cheaper than constructing a storage building," Nixon says.

"We are pleased that Cargill identified Professor Nixon as an expert who could advance this technology and of course, we are grateful that the company selected the UIRF as the recipient of this gift," said Bruce Wheaton, Executive Director of UIRF.

"This is the kind of gift that may be more valuable to the public than to the UI," Wheaton added. "We're giving serious thought to making the patent freely available to the public when Professor Nixon can demonstrate its efficacy."

Nixon, an internationally known authority on winter highway maintenance who plans to study the technology, says that when Cargill decided to donate the patent, the company turned to the industry's Salt Institute, which, in turn, recommended the UI. "The gift is a recognition of the fact that the University of Iowa is known nationwide as a place where excellent winter highway research is done," Nixon says.

Nixon has conducted research under the Strategic Highway Research Program and has served on the AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials) Lead States Team for Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS) and Anti-Icing. Registered as a professional engineer in Iowa, he has performed work for a number of State Departments of Transportation relating to winter maintenance and RWIS and is the author of more than 80 articles, papers and reports.

Cargill is an international marketer, processor and distributor of agricultural, food, financial and industrial products and services 90,000 employees in 57 countries. The company provides distinctive customer solutions in supply chain management, food applications and health and nutrition.