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What Would Eli Whitney Think?

By Don Comis
January 9, 2001

How about heating your home or small business with pellets made from cotton gin “trash”?

Agricultural Research Service scientists in Lubbock, Texas, are burning such pellets--made with a new low-cost, patent-pending system--in commercial pellet stoves to test their efficiency and effectiveness.

The scientists are conducting the tests through a memorandum of understanding with Insta Pro, Intl., Des Moines, Iowa. The system can also process cotton gin trash, or byproducts, into livestock feed and fertilizer or mulch, both as pellets or “loose.”

ARS agricultural engineer Gregory A. Holt and colleagues process the cotton gin trash at a pilot plant in their Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit cotton gin facility. Their pellet mill presses the trash and other ingredients into pellets that are 1/4- to 5/8-inch in diameter and ½- to 1-inch long.

More than 60 commercial mills across North America produce over 610,000 tons of fuel pellets a year. Typically made of sawdust and ground wood chips, the pellets are available for purchase at stove dealers, nurseries, building supply stores, and feed and garden supply stores. The mills could use the ARS system--known as COBY, for Cotton Byproducts--to include cotton byproducts in those pellets.

The byproducts are all those parts of cotton plants--like stems, branches, parts of the cotton bolls, and seeds--that are removed during ginning to leave the actual cotton fibers as clean as possible.

The key to the COBY recipe is a hot gelatinized starch solution that not only makes the feed more digestible, but also acts as a glue and lubricant to smooth the materials’ flow through equipment. The recipe can include molasses, cottonseed, various grain meals, urea, sawdust and other items as needed.

Early tests show the feed more digestible than commonly used feed made from cotton seed hulls.

Cotton Incorporated, Raleigh, N.C., helps fund the research and development.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s principal scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Gregory A. Holt, ARS Cotton Production and Processing Research Unit, Lubbock, Texas, phone (806) 746-5353, fax (806) 744-4402,