Research Team Tackles Problem of Sustainably Harvesting Biomass
November 21, 2011 | Andrew Burger
One of the biggest obstacles faced by those working to harness energy from biomass is how to harvest it in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. Thus, a collaborative of researchers from the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) and the Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) department at the University of Illinois have joined forces to enable the development of solutions to solve for impediments in current biomass harvesting processes and equipment.
The team is currently working on modifying the mower/conditioners and balers used in the two-step process of harvesting traditional grass crops, such as wheat, to efficiently and effectively cut, mash and bale them during harvesting.
“These machines are generally set up to harvest crops like hay and forage. There is some degree of uncertainty related to these machines working in miscanthus, which is a much denser, taller crop, or even switchgrass, a shorter grass,” said Alan Hansen, Professor of agricultural and biological engineering at University of Illinois in an article from the university’s Aces News service.
One focus of their work is the harvesting of miscanthus, a perennial grass that is being touted as a sustainable feedstock candidate for biomass energy production.
According to the article, Hansen and team members ran into problems in their early efforts and then moved on to try sickle and disk mowers. They eventually settled on using the disk mower because of its higher throughput, but then found that the equipment’s auger wasn’t effectively picking up the long, cut miscanthus grass stems.
They modified the auger, adding some fingers and vanes, and changed its size so that it could gather and propel the material into the equipment’s center. The system seemed to work well and the team plans to evaluate its performance in the field in the coming harvesting season.
Data logging systems with GPS are fitted on the modified mower/conditioner so that the researchers can track its performance in the field over time. Besides recording and transmitting an exact location, the system monitors how fast the equipment’s moving, how much power it’s using, and how the engine is performing.
The baler is also equipped with the data logging system that records and tracks the weight and location of each bale in the field. The data, in turn, is synthesized into a map of the field’s miscanthus production.
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