On Jan. 10, when many of us were at home looking at nearly foot-deep snow and thermometers plunging about as far below zero as we'd ever seen, Eric Hitzfield was at work and on the phone with an emergency call from the Fort Wayne streets department.

Distilled booze melts ice, works in extreme cold

On Jan. 10, when many of us were at home looking at nearly foot-deep snow and thermometers plunging about as far below zero as we’d ever seen, Eric Hitzfield was at work and on the phone with an emergency call from the Fort Wayne streets department.

The hill on Hillegas Road leading to Jefferson Boulevard was snow-covered and icy. Vehicles already had spun out, and the road had to be closed – even as the city faced a deadline as to when a snow emergency that kept all but essential traffic off the streets would expire.

Could he help?

Enter a product Hitzfield has been selling for the last five years.

He sent some to the site, and within minutes – about 10, he says – the snow and ice were melting down to clear pavement and the road could be reopened even though conventional road salt had been rendered ineffective by the day’s low temperatures.

“Some of the guys working out there couldn’t believe it,” he says.

The product, Ice B’Gone Magic, is a road deicer made from organic waste from distilling vodka and rum, says Hitzfield, co-owner of ES De-icing in Fort Wayne and the products’ distributor for Indiana and parts of Ohio and Michigan.

This year, he says, area homeowners have expanded access to the product, which he says promises not only lower-temperature melts but also more protection of surfaces and equipment and a more environmentally friendly profile.

Hitzfield, 38, found out about the de-icers about a half-dozen years ago as a second-generation commercial-property plower facing a severe shortage of road salt. He says he began looking for alternatives.

“We went through a lot of (product) testing,” he says, “and this one blew everything we tried out of the water.”

Opening a plastic canister of Ice B’Gone Magic, which contains brown sugar-colored crystals with a butterscotch-like scent, Hitzfield says the product is effective down to minus 35 degrees, though lower temperatures may take a little longer to work. Conventional road salt works to about 18 degrees, he says.

Dan Juergens, co-owner of Juergens Do it Best hardware store in Huntington, says he can attest to that. He uses the product on the sidewalk and parking lot at the business and was among the first area stores to carry it for homeowner use.

Once customers buy the product, which sells for $19.99 for a 50-pound bag, they return for more, he says. Ice B’Gone Magic is now available at other area Do it Best outlets through its warehouse system, he says.

“It is more expensive but the nice thing about it is that … it lasts longer,” Juergens says, adding it goes up to twice as far as conventional products that sell for $6.50 and $11.50 for the same weight.

“There’s residual, so when the next skiff of snow comes around, it keeps working,” he adds. “And it doesn’t rust out the (spreading) equipment, because it’s noncorrosive.”

Dave Jones, utilities superintendent for New Haven, likes the product because it can be used on uncured concrete. The department is in its second full year using it on streets.

Jones says the city was able to keep open the hill of the new portion of Maplecrest Road without damaging the new surface because of Ice B’Gone Magic.

“It was miraculous. I was already sold on it, but after that I was really sold,” he says. “I give it a thumbs up.”

For streets officials, Jones says, the product saves money because it means fewer trips to get salt and less time on the road for crews. And he says he’s noticed another benefit – the product isn’t as hard on vegetation.

Researchers say too much road salt can be damaging or deadly to plants. Either spray or dust can affect leaves, and accumulating salt changes soil chemistry, reducing or replacing nutrients plants need, according to “Salt Damage in Landscape Plants” by Rosie Lerner, a horticulturalist at Purdue University.

Hitzfield says Ice B’gone Magic carries the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Design for the Environment seal, given to products that demonstrate safer-for-the-environment chemistry.

While the seal doesn’t represent an endorsement of individual products, according to the program’s Web site, companies must document that they perform well and are cost-effective.

“You can still get dead grass if you overapply it,” Hitzfield says of Ice B’Gone Magic. About a quarter-cup will clear a square yard of pavement, he says.

“You don’t need to throw it around like chicken feed,” Hitzfield says. The green-up happens because the organic compounds in the product act as fertilizer.

He says Ice B’Gone Magic began when a scientist in Europe noticed that when a liquor distiller discharged its waste into a retention pond, the pond never froze.

Samples were found to contain a mixture of magnesium chloride, used as a food preservative, with the sugars and starches in the waste. Similar de-icers, he says, have been developed from organic waste from sugar beets and corn.

Hitzfield’s product line now includes Ice B’Gone Magic crystals and two liquid products containing it that can be used both for melting and pretreating roads and conventional road salt to increase its performance. Besides supplying highway departments, ES De-Icing sells to commercial plowers at its facility at 3500 Meyer Road.

Lately, Hitzfield has been one happy snow-preneur.

“It’s been good for us, and the people who listened to us,” he says of this winter’s weather. “And the people who listened and haven’t done anything with our products – they’re really listening now.”- Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gazette