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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Cotton Ginning Research » Research » Research Project #428934

Research Project: Enhancing the Quality, Utility, Sustainability and Environmental Impact of Western and Long-Staple Cotton through Improvements in Harvesting, Processing, and Utilization

Location: Cotton Ginning Research

2017 Annual Report

1: Determine the expected impact of new cultivars, agronomic practices, and harvesting/storage practices on profitability and risks in ginning of Western and long-staple cotton in collaboration with private-sector partners, ARS-SRRC-CSQ, and other ARS laboratories. 1A: Improve or enhance cotton fiber ginnability, textile utility, and cottonseed end use value of new germplasm releases of both Upland and Pima cottons. 1B: Reduce fiber damage during harvesting. 1C: Improve and reduce environmental risk of cotton harvest preparation. 2: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial technologies, methods and processes to (1) improve process efficiencies, (2) reduce uncertainties and risk, and (3) increase end-product and co-product value in the ginning of Western and other long-staple cottons. 2A: Improve seed-cotton drying and foreign matter extraction. 2B: Develop improved saw ginning technologies to increase efficiency and productivity, and enhance fiber quality. 2C: Enhance high speed roller-ginning technologies to increase capacity and improve textile processing efficiency and yarn quality. 2D: Enhance understanding and knowledge of ginning techniques and processes for better decision making tools at the gin and textile mill. 2E: Improve foreign matter extraction and fiber quality of ginned lint. 2F: Develop methods and systems to reduce energy consumption during ginning. 2G: Assist the ginning industry in complying with regulatory standards. 3: Enable the commercial processing of cotton companion crops, such as chile peppers and tree nuts. 3A: Assist tree nut industries in improving process efficiency and reducing environmental risk. 3B: Optimize field machinery for chile harvest mechanization.

To address critical production, processing and regulatory compliance issues pertaining to Western irrigated cottons and companion crops, this project focuses on three main research areas. The first area advances knowledge of and improves cotton cultivars and production and harvesting practices by 1) collaborating with cotton breeders to determine the ginned fiber quality, textile processing characteristics, and cottonseed quality of newly developed cotton cultivars; 2) investigating cotton picker spindle designs to reduce quality degradation during harvesting; and 3) developing a technology to thermally treat cotton plant stalks for whole-plant desiccation and defoliation. The second improves processing, reduces risk, and increases value by 1) building on earlier work to advance the use of microwave energy to effectively dry seed cotton; 2) improving a device developed to accurately measure seed cotton moisture content for better system management; 3) developing an infrared based sensor to detect plastics contamination in seed cotton at the gin and an electrostatic based device to separate plastics from seed cotton by exploiting static charge affinity differences; 4) evaluating current and, then, developing improved gin saw designs that maintain capacity and reduce fiber damage; 5) cooperating with industry partners in further evaluating and refining a prototype seed cotton reclaimer and lint cleaner feed works capable of processing seed cotton carryover and ginned lint from high speed roller gin stands; 6) evaluating roller ginned upland cotton textile utilization without combing to reduce processing cost; 7) studying in depth the cost of roller ginning upland cottons; 8) exploring improvements in lint cleaner saw wire configuration and grid bar design, and developing new air knife and rotary brush technologies to reduce seed coat fragments in ginned lint; 9) developing continuous air system monitoring and control systems and performing cyclone flow sensitivity analyses to reduce gin energy consumption; and 10) updating particulate emission factors, evaluating regulatory dispersion models, documenting federal reference method particulate samplers for more equitable industry regulation. The third area enhances the viability of cotton companion crops by 1) modifying current walnut drying technologies to reduce energy usage and drying time; 2) building on previous testing and utilizing an experimental approach to improve a retrofit particulate abatement technology for mobile agricultural equipment; and 3) optimizing a prototype to mechanize succulent chili harvest.

Progress Report
Progress on this project focused on cotton harvesting, ginning, and textile utility, and agricultural regulatory and processing issues. Under Objective 1, progress was made in improving cotton fiber ginnability, textile utility, and cottonseed end use value of new germplasm releases of both Upland and Pima cottons. A project was initiated in collaboration with a private-sector partner to determine how well newly-developed upland cultivars perform on the roller gin. A gin test was run and collected samples were sent to researchers at the Fiber and Biopolymer Research Inst. at Texas Tech University for analysis. This lab continued to aid the New Mexico State University (NMSU) in developing experimental cotton cultivars with improved fiber and seed quality. Seed cotton totaling 3400 pounds from four experimental cottons was ginned. Pure seed for future planting and cotton lint samples for quality analysis were returned to the NMSU breeders. Under Objective 2, progress was made to improve gin process efficiency, maintain fiber quality, and reduce waste and energy consumption. Analysis continued on the data from an online cotton moisture measurement system that could improve cotton dryer control. The results showed that real time seed cotton mass flow still varied considerably. A calculated moving average of seed cotton mass flow did improve the measurement. However, further evaluation is needed to improve the performance of the model. Then, more testing of the moisture measurement system in a commercial ginning plant is planned. In collaboration with ARS researchers in Lubbock, Texas, a system to detect plastic contamination in seed cotton using visible light reflectance was assembled and tested. Images were captured with the system and statistics for different color spaces were developed to better quantify the visible differences between cotton and contamination samples. It was determined that the current system detects blue objects and some yellow objects very well, but some red objects are erroneously classified. The system software was updated to include lasso-type object selection for classifier training and video capture to allow processing of moving objects. More work on training the classifier was planned. Cryogenically treated gin saws that were previously installed in a commercial cotton gin were tested for a second season. The objective was to compare saw-life in terms of number of bales ginned. The saws that had ginned about 13,000 bales the first season continued to function properly after about 20,000 more bales in the second season. Fiber quality data showed no differences between the two types of saws. The saws were left in their respective gin stands for further evaluation during the 2017-18 ginning season. The saws should wear significantly during this third season of testing and may then begin to show differences in cottonseed and fiber quality between treatments. Modifications to reduce cottonseed loss were made to an experimental high-capacity roller gin reclaimer. Also, improvements to test protocols were made to better quantify the reclaimer performance. Test results indicated that the most recent modifications did reduce seed loss, but also increased cotton fiber loss. It was concluded that the experimental reclaimer needed further study and modifications before it would be ready for full-scale commercial gin testing. High-speed roller ginning requires complimentary high capacity lint cleaning. High-speed video taken of a lint cleaner feeding unit confirmed that the feeder channel saw was delivering fiber tufts to the cleaning cylinder, but some of the tufts were being recirculated. It was determined that replacing the channel saw cylinder with a full-face brush cylinder may eliminate the recirculation. The brush cylinder will also operate at a lower speed and produce less noise. Analysis of data was completed and results from ginning tests, fiber quality measurements, and spinning tests compiled from a project to better understand roller-ginned cotton textile utility of selected Upland cotton varieties. A report was drafted and published in a peer-reviewed journal. Data from a three-year industry-wide roller-ginning industry costs, needs, and practices survey was compiled and entered into the database for GINMODEL (economic-engineering simulation of cotton ginning costs). When data entry is complete, simulations are planned in order to develop high-speed roller ginning cost predictions for the U.S. cotton industry. To improve the removal of seed coat fragments (SCF) from ginned lint with experimental lint cleaner saw wire, a larger drive motor and variable frequency drive controller were installed on the lint cleaner for saw speed control. Tests of the saw speed control capabilities were successfully conducted. However, the doffing brush failed and damaged some components. Repairs are underway. Also, in complimentary work developing experimental grid bars and air knife to remove SCF, it was determined that a better understanding of the distribution of high-velocity air exiting the air knife along the grid bar was needed. A review of constant temperature anemometers and boundary layer probes showed these systems do not provide much more information than a simpler total pressure pitot tube. Particle image velocimetry was also considered, but the costs are prohibitive. High-speed video of smoke laden air stream exiting the air knife, in conjunction with pitot tube data, will be useful in assessing the path and velocity of air along the grid bar. At the request of industry partners, the SCF removal projects were expanded to investigate ginning methods that improve fiber length uniformity to levels competitive with synthetic fibers and compatible with the newer and more efficient spinning technologies. A study was planned to examine how length uniformity is affected by 1) lint cleaner saw cylinders with experimental saw tooth densities and pitch angles (expanding an existing objective) and 2) lint cleaners that eliminate the harmful feed works assembly found on controlled-batt saw-type lint cleaners. Lint cleaners included for testing are previously in-house designed and built saw gin coupled lint cleaner and roller gin coupled lint cleaner, and a Lummus Sentinel lint cleaner. The saw gin coupled lint cleaner was modified and is now ready for testing. Updates to the roller gin coupled lint cleaner are underway. Testing in collaboration with ARS scientists in Stoneville, Mississipppi was planned for fall 2017. A more comprehensive fuel energy audit campaign was conducted during the 2016-17 ginning season with ARS researchers at Stoneville, Mississippi to reduce energy consumption during ginning. Temperature and air flow measurement equipment was installed at twelve cooperating gins across the Cotton Belt. During the ginning season, fuel energy consumption for each drying system was measured and seed cotton before and after each drying system was sampled. More than 1000 seed cotton samples were processed for moisture content determination. Data were analyzed to quantify fuel use and drying effectiveness. Preliminary results were presented at a technical conference. Current practices to determine cotton moisture content are loosely based on standard procedures from the 1970s. Experiences from the energy audit project revealed the need for a better understanding of current practices and a more standard method of moisture content measurement with modern equipment. To that end, a cooperative project with ARS scientists in Lubbock, Texas, Stoneville, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisana was initiated. An experiment was designed and lab protocols accommodating current practices were written, samples were accumulated, and equipment was acquired and repaired. Initial testing was begun with full on testing planned. Working with researchers from Oklahoma State University, information was provided to an EPA scientist reviewing 264 cotton gin particulate matter emissions sampling reports. The reports, submitted in 2015, were updated with additional information to fill identified data gaps and answer EPA reviewer questions. The reports will be assigned data quality factors and used to update current cotton gin particulate matter emission factors in AP-42 “Compilation of Air Pollutant Emission Factors”. With the Research Leader as coordinator, work continued on updating the Cotton Ginners Handbook, an invaluable information source for the ginning industry and text for university courses teaching ginning technology. Eleven of the 35 proposed chapters have been submitted or published. Revision of 13 chapters is directly overseen by scientists from this lab as lead authors. The new Handbook will be published in the Journal of Cotton Science, an industry supported, open-access, online peer-reviewed journal. Under Objective 3, significant progress was made to aid processing and mechanization of cotton companion crops. Work on a review of prior art in tree nut processing with emphasis on drying was continued. However, new concerns about very fine particulate matter in California has renewed scrutiny of tree nut harvesting operations and shifted emphasis from the literature review. A test stand was assembled to test two model experimental devices designed to retrofit existing tree nut harvesting equipment and reduce harvest dust emissions. Test protocols are being formulated and the experimental design for testing is in development. In cooperative research with New Mexico State University aiding mechanized chile production (especially harvesting), a scientist from this lab participated in field experiments using a modified commercially available chile harvester. The experiment was designed and field work and lab analysis conducted to compare the impact of cultivars and plant populations on machine harvest. Continued assistance to plant breeding efforts by providing agricultural engineering expertise is planned.


Review Publications
Hughs, S.E., Holt, G.A., Rutherford, R. 2017. Saw gin stands. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:60-69.
Funk, P.A., Wanjura, J.D. 2017. Seed cotton unloading systems. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:51-59.
Whitelock, D.P., Hughs, S.E., Armijo, C.B. 2017. Classifying cotton bark and grass extraneous matter using image analysis. Textile Research Journal. 87(8):891-901.
Armijo, C.B., Delhom, C.D., Whitelock, D.P., Hughs, S.E., Gillum, M.N. 2016. Evaluating newly designed lint cleaner grid bars to remove seed coat fragments. Journal of Cotton Science. 20:356-366.
Delhom, C.D., Armijo, C.B., Hughs, S.E. 2017. High quality yarns produced via high-speed roller ginning of upland cotton. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:81-93.
Baker, K.D., Delhom, C.D., Hughs, S.E. 2017. Spindle diameter effects for cotton pickers. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 33(3):321-327.
Wanjura, J.D., Baker, K.D., Barnes, E.M. 2017. Harvesting. Journal of Cotton Science. 21:70-80.
Hughs, S.E., Armijo, C.B. 2015. Impact of gin saw tooth design on fiber and textile processing quality. Journal of Cotton Science. 19:27-32.
Zhang, J.F., Flynn, R., Idowu, O.J., Wedegaertner, T., Hughs, S.E. 2016. Transgressive segregation in an Acala × Acala Hybrid for the development of glandless cotton germplasm. Journal of Cotton Science. 20:145-153.
Hughs, S.E., Wakelyn, P.J. 2017. Combustibility determination for cotton gin dust and almond huller dust. Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health. 23(2):125-132.
Macias-Corral, M.A., Samani, Z.T., Hanson, A.T., Funk, P.A. 2017. Co-digestion of agricultural and municipal waste to produce energy and soil amendment. Waste Management and Research. 35(9):991-996.