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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Cotton Production and Processing Research » Research » Research Project #429210

Research Project: Enhancing the Profitability and Sustainability of Upland Cotton, Cottonseed, and Agricultural Byproducts through Improvements in Pre- and Post-Harvest Processing

Location: Cotton Production and Processing Research

2016 Annual Report

Objective 1: Enable, from a technological standpoint, new commercial equipment and processes for harvesting, storing, and pre-processing Upland cotton; resulting in (1) lower use of chemicals, and (2) enhanced cleanliness and quality of the seed cotton, cottonseed, and/or lint fiber. Subobjective 1A: Develop technology for chemical free cotton pre-harvest defoliation and desiccation treatments. Subobjective 1B: Develop sensing technology for monitoring/control of cotton during harvest operations. Subobjective 1C: Evaluate the accuracy of microwave sensor based cotton yield monitoring systems and investigate the relationships between yield measurement error and crop characteristics and environmental parameters. Subobjective 1D: Develop technology for improving the accuracy and reliability of cotton yield monitor data. Subobjective 1E: Develop technology for improving the cleanliness of harvested seed cotton and the efficiency and productivity of cotton harvest. Objective 2: Enable new commercial technologies and methods for post-harvest processing of stripper-harvested seed cotton, cottonseed, lint fiber and/or agricultural byproducts that preserve and/or enhance quality/value, storage, and utilization. Subobjective 2A: Develop sensing technology for identification and control of cotton gin moisture control systems. Subobjective 2B: Develop commercially viable means of delinting cottonseed, to produce planting quality (naked) seed, without the use of chemicals. Subobjective 2C: Develop and evaluate the use of cotton gin byproducts in the manufacture of composite materials. Subobjective 2D: Develop methods and technology for improving the quality and productivity of Southern High Plains cotton.

This five-year project plan addresses critical production, harvesting, and processing issues facing cotton producers and processors in the United States. Our plan of work is based on an interactive research approach which emphasizes the development of improved harvest preparation, mechanical harvesting, lint cleaning, cottonseed processing equipment, and in finding suitable uses for cotton byproducts and/or waste materials. The planned research targets two critical areas: 1) harvest, storing, and pre-processing technologies for Upland cotton, and 2) innovative post-harvest processing of seed cotton, cottonseed, lint fiber, and/or cotton byproducts and co-products. Commercial viability of the research is a key component of any problem solution.

Progress Report
Objective 1: Subobjective 1A: Laboratory investigation was conducted on a chemical free method to achieve cotton phloem disruption (thereby triggering early senescence and leaf drop). The approach utilized a laser to cut the main stalk tissue through the bark, phloem tissue. The plants utilized in the testing were grown outside in tree pots. Results of the testing did not produce a defoliation response. Post-treatment analysis suggests the laser cuts were not deep enough and should likely cover a larger area. Plans are underway to repeat this experiment in the up-coming growing season using a more powerful laser and wider/deeper cuts. Subobjective 1B: Laboratory tests were conducted to determine if plant materials would provide sufficient deviation in heat signatures from that of plastic bags when heated under sunlight. Plastic sources examined were typical black trash bags and white shopping bags. Results from the study will provide guidance for future approaches towards the development of in-field plastic contamination sensor development. Subobjective 1C: A microwave sensor based yield monitor was obtained and installed on a commercial cotton stripper and field tested during 2015. Experiments were conducted to evaluate system accuracy due to the influence of crop conditions (moisture content, defoliation level), cultivar, and yield level. In each trial, the system was calibrated once at the beginning of the harvesting event and reference weights were collected using a portable scale system. Results indicate that the average accuracy of the system is on the order of +/- 12% but can be significantly influenced by seed size, foreign matter content, and cultivar changes. Additional testing is planned for the fall of 2016. Subobjective 1D: Reliability testing of an on-harvester cotton weight measurement system was conducted in 2015. The system was installed on 4 cotton strippers operated in the Southern High Plains region of Texas and Oklahoma. Experience with the system in 2015 lead to the development of improved operating procedures to ensure weight accuracy under varying wind conditions. Cooperating cotton growers provided positive feedback in regard to the ease of use and utility of the system. Many expressed that this system would greatly enhance their ability to conduct on-farm research. Publications detailing the development and field testing of this system are being prepared. Subobjective 1E: Field testing of cotton stripper field cleaner improvements with a commercial partner in 2015 indicated marginal improvement in seed cotton cleanliness and reduced module wrap cost. Observations of the field cleaner performance in 2015 lead to the conceptual development of a three-saw cleaner design. Laboratory testing was conducted using an existing field cleaner to simulate the performance of the new three saw design. Treatments evaluated in the laboratory investigated the influence of grid bar spacing around each of the three saws in the new design. Results indicated increased cleaning efficiency and lint turnout after ginning for treatments with wider grid spacing around the second and third saws. However, excessive cleaning aggressiveness caused by wide grid spacing also results in additional loss of seed cotton. Analysis of the laboratory test data is still underway to select treatments for field testing planned for the fall of 2016. Objective 2: Subobjective 2A: Laboratory tests were conducted on micro-modules harvested with a commercial cotton harvester at various naturally occurring moisture contents. Bales were brought back to the laboratory and scanned with commercial microwave analyzers to determine basic microwave material properties of seed cotton. This information will be utilized in the up-coming studies to help develop a prototype sensor. Subobjective 2B: The prototype bench-top model developed in the lab was commercially produced by a gin manufacturing company and is now being sold as a Breeder Cottonseed Delinter for $20K to $25K depending on options selected. Based on information learned from developing the bench-top model for breeders, a large-scale model was built and tested. The large-scale model is 8 ft long and can process around 65 to 100 lb/hr of fuzzy cottonseed. Data from testing of the large-scale unit is currently being analyzed. Subobjective 2C: Several mycelium/agricultural substrate mixtures were evaluated as acoustic absorbers. During the evaluation, a modification to the 3-microphone method was developed to obtain faster readings with less technical equipment. The results from the testing and the new modification to the 3-microphone method are both being written up and will be submitted to peer-review journals. Subobjective 2D: Work to develop a modular ginning system for cotton breeders and agronomists continued in 2015 with the design, fabrication, and testing of a seed cotton cleaner/gin feeder. The new cleaner utilizes four cylinder-type cleaners in sequence before a two-stage extractor-type cleaner to open and clean the cotton. Seed cotton exiting the machine is in single-lock form with low foreign matter content which will greatly enhance the efficiency of the gin stand in removing lint from the seed. Testing of the new cleaner indicated cleaning efficiency in the range of 60 to 80% depending upon the initial level of foreign matter in the cotton. Seed cotton loss was initially about 1.5% but was decreased to 1% or less with the installation of a new seed cotton feeding system which substantially improved the uniformity of cotton flow into the machine. Design efforts are now focused on the development of a new gin stand for use in the modular ginning system. Improved gin stand technology is being integrated to facilitate process automation and minimize the amount of human influence required to process each sample.


1. Under agreement number 0000054984, Opportunities for Higher Education and Research Experience in Renewable Energy and Water Quality to Enable STEM Hispanic Leaders, 3 engineering student interns and 4 students transferring to UTSA from community colleges were mentored while working on three distinct design projects involving the development and testing of new processing and measuring techniques for cottonseed delinting, ginning of breeder samples, and moisture measurement of seed cotton. Students designed, built,and evaluated equipment, analyzed results, and worked on a manuscript for publication. This activity is helping train the next generation of research scientist/engineers with practical hands-on experience. 2. In conjunction with National Cotton Ginners Association, a school, known as Gin School, is conducted every year. This year the school had 142 students. The school is hosted, coordinated, and taught by the engineers of this research unit. The school teaches and trains industry partners, a majority of which are Hispanic, in gin safety, electricity, hydraulics, maintenance, pneumatics, waste collection and disposal, cottonseed handling and storage. There are four levels offered, Level 1 – 3 and Continuing Education. Since a majority of employees working in cotton gins are Hispanic, the certification test is offered (read) in Spanish as well as English. The training and testing are vital components of the requirements for national certification as a Certified Ginner.

Review Publications
Simonton, J., Collins, T., Holt, G.A., Beruvides, M. 2011. Manufacturing vegetable oil based biodiesel: An engineering management perspective. Engineering Management Journal. 23(3):57-64.