Ames, Iowa - Machinery to clean and collect corn cobs for cellulosic ethanol production and other uses based on initial research by an Iowa State University engineer is being highlighted at the John Deere exhibit at this year's Farm Progress Show, Aug. 31 to Sept. 1 in Boone.
Stuart Birrell, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, started development on the system five years ago that, at the time, he called a flex harvester.
"Some of the early development was done at Iowa State, and then John Deere and Hillco Technologies developed it further," said Birrell. "This is basically an offshoot of the flex harvest system we have been working on here."
The Iowa State University Research Foundation licensed this technology to John Deere, which worked with Hillco to further develop the technology and bring it to market. The machine is now being marketed as the Cob Collection Attachment.
Corn cobs are valuable as an ethanol input and can also be used in biodegradable abrasives, industrial absorbent material, as cattle bedding and for other uses, according to Birrell.
The Cob Collection Attachment is designed to be mounted on the rear of certain John Deere combine models.
The attachment collects, cleans and blows out the cobs through a spout.
Cobs can then be collected either in a cart towed behind the combine or in a trailer pulled alongside the combine.
Birrell says his design is sensitive to soil erosion concerns that come from taking too much stover - corn cobs, stalks and leaves that have been historically left on the fields and serve as organic material to keep the soils sustainable.
"Flexibility has been an important part of the design from the beginning, and the system can revert to conventional grain harvest at the flick of a switch," Birrell said.
"If conditions change, and the farmer decides to stop cob collection, such as transport trucks are not available or harvest is occurring on part of the field where material cannot be removed in a sustainable manner, for instance, on an incline where the biomass should stay on the field to reduce erosion, the producer can switch off the biomass collection," he added. "If you don't want to collect cobs, you can spread them on the ground at the flick of a switch."
Birrell is proud that this technology has made its way into the marketplace.
"It is great to know that this is getting out to farmers," he said. "We didn't just work on it and then put the technology away in the library somewhere. People are going to use it."
More information about the Farm Progress Show is available here.