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ARS Home » Plains Area » Lubbock, Texas » Cropping Systems Research Laboratory » Cotton Production and Processing Research » Research » Research Project #437975

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

Location: Cotton Production and Processing Research

2023 Annual Report

OBJECTIVE 1: Develop commercially viable methods and technologies for use before ginning that reduce harvest costs, preserve fiber/seed quality, enhance the utilization of production/harvest/gin data, and prevent/minimize contamination of upland cotton. Subobjective 1A: Assessing the influence of seed cotton storage in round modules on lint and seed quality. Subobjective 1B: Improving the cleanliness and quality of stripper-harvested cotton through improved field cleaning systems. Subobjective 1C: Development of equipment to detect and remove contaminants from cotton during the harvesting process. OBJECTIVE 2: Enable commercially preferred technologies/methods/strategies for use in ginning upland cotton that improve cleanliness of seed cotton and lint, detect/remove contamination, preserve fiber quality, and reduce financial costs. Subobjective 2A: Development of equipment to detect and remove contaminants from cotton in the harvest and ginning processes. Subobjective 2B: Improving cotton fiber length distribution through novel lint cleaner design. OBJECTIVE 3: Develop commercially viable post-ginning technologies/techniques that enhance the storage and utilization of upland cotton products/coproducts/byproducts and reduce the environmental footprint of cotton production/processing. Subobjective 3A: Development of a commercially viable mechanical cottonseed delinting system to remove cotton linters and produce planting quality seed, without the use of chemicals. Subobjective 3B: Reducing particulate emissions from cotton ginning through improved pollution abatement device design using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and laboratory testing. Subobjective 3C: Develop and evaluate the use of cotton plant constituents and other natural fibers in the manufacture of composite materials.

This five-year project plan addresses critical pre-ginning, ginning and post-ginning issues facing cotton producers and processors in the United States. Our plan of work is based on an interactive research approach which is focused on the development of processes and systems for preserving cotton quality during infield storage and ginning, removing foreign material and contaminants from seed cotton during harvesting and ginning, reducing particulate emissions from ag operations, reducing the environmental impact of acid cottonseed delinting, and increasing the value of cotton byproducts though composite materials. The research plan detailed herein addresses the development of new technologies, methods, and strategies for reducing the economic and environmental costs of cotton harvest, ginning, and post-gin processing of upland cotton and cotton by-products. Commercial viability of the research is a key component of any problem solution.

Progress Report
Objective 1: A preliminary field experiment to document the change in fiber and seed quality for cotton stored in round modules as a function of harvest moisture content and storage duration was conducted. The protocol was developed for a full-scale field test that included four moisture content ranges and six storage duration periods. However, the experiment was cut down in scope this year due to the lack of cotton available for the test. Seed cotton in the modules was picker harvested with moisture content ranging from about 13% to over 20%. The cotton was harvested with high moisture levels to affect expected changes in fiber quality during storage. The modules were stored for 55 days before they were ginned. Samples collected before and after storage indicated increases in fiber yellowness and decreases in fiber reflectance – both which indicate degradation in color grade. Other fiber properties exhibited negative changes during the storage period and additional analysis of the data is ongoing to determine the overall effect of the observed storage conditions on the economic value of the cotton. This preliminary test pointed out areas in the protocol that need to be modified before large-scale experiments can be conducted. Two large scale field locations near Lubbock, Texas, and Stoneville, Mississippi, have been planted to cotton and will be used to carry out this investigation in the upcoming harvesting season. A new field cleaner was designed and implemented on commercial state-of-the-art cotton strippers. The new machine exhibits improved cleaning efficiency and decreased seed cotton loss compared to prior models. Additional experiments with the new field cleaner to optimize saw speeds and cleaning grid spacing around each saw were conducted and analysis of the data is ongoing. In a separate effort, development work was carried out to evaluate new techniques to balance the material flow between the upper and lower saw cylinders in efforts to further improve cleaning efficiency and throughput capacity. These tests yielded insight into new areas for design improvement to improve the application and retention of seed cotton on the primary cleaning saw. New designs for an active laydown cylinder were developed and modifications to the machine are underway for laboratory evaluation of these concepts. Protocols for evaluating the presence of plastic contamination immediately in front of a harvester were developed. A design for mechanical exclusion of plastic contamination was developed and fabricated. This equipment is designed to be utilized in conjunction with a smart machine-vision system to provide detection, which will then provide the signal to actuate the mechanical exclusion system. The smart machine-vision sensor has been designed and fabricated. Work is ongoing on the development of the machine vision software that is the heart of the detection system. Traditional machine learning classifiers are being assessed for their potential use in detection of plastic contamination and show promise. In parallel, deep learning models are being assessed for this purpose because of their significant promise for use in uncontrolled lighting environments where traditional machine vision algorithms struggle. Recent developments have produced several deep learning models that appear promising. Plans are underway to test these new models in the upcoming harvest season. Scientific presentations have reported on the new models and algorithms. Objective 2: Plastic contamination detection and removal systems have been designed and fabricated. Testing and evaluation of the system is on-going in laboratory studies on a cut-down extractor feeder with commercial scale cross-sectional geometry. Initial test results have been successful for several of the primary sources of plastic contamination that the industry struggles with (plastic that comprises more than 85% of contamination found at the USDA - Agricultural Marketing Service classing offices). Additional work on machine-vision classifier exploration is continuing for alternative classification algorithms for more challenging plastic contamination colors such as black and clear. The research revealed a significant impediment to adoption of the technology due to a lack of skilled personnel available to run the system. To address this issue, additional work was conducted on the development of an auto-calibration system that will eliminate the need for personnel to monitor and periodically adjust the calibration of the detection system, due to changing cotton conditions. The initial work appears promising when benchmarked against previously obtained commercial field data. Given the promise of the approach, further testing is planned in upcoming commercial field trials. Scientific presentations have reported on the new models and algorithms. Air-type lint cleaners are commonly used after the gin stand to remove heavy foreign matter such as seed coats, seed meats, and other vegetative material from ginned lint before it is processed by more aggressive saw-type lint cleaners. A novel multi-stage air-type lint cleaner was developed and tested for use in processing small samples from breeding and agronomic development research. This machine is more efficient at removing foreign matter from ginned lint than its single-stage counterparts, but its main advantage is that it does not break fibers and degrade the fiber length distribution. A large-scale prototype of the multi-stage air-type lint cleaner is under development for testing under commercial ginning conditions. Objective 3: Modifications to the prototype cottonseed preconditioning system have started after the arrival of the much-awaited parts from last year which were delayed due to supply chain issues. In addition, the 8-ft mechanical cottonseed delinter was taken to a commercial cotton gin where it is being installed for evaluation during the upcoming ginning season. Also, a commercial seed company requested a copy of our computer aided design drawings of the mechanical delinter in order to build a similar unit themselves. Computational fluid dynamic simulation software was developed to study particulate laden air streams. Experimental testing shows that typical air flows in baffle type pre-separators exhibit turbulent flow as the dominant flow regime. As such, the simulation model was developed to include turbulent flow models with 2-way interaction between the particulates and the air stream. Simulations revealed potential for use of an additional skimmer plate in the baffle-type pre-separator to enhance cleaning efficiency of the system. To test the model, a baffle-type pre-separator system has been fabricated. The next step is to conduct experimental validation tests. Currently, designs are being reviewed and plans are underway for testing of the experimental test unit. Five thermoplastic composite samples were produced and tested with replication at a university partner’s location. The samples evaluated various levels of Zinc and Boron oxide additions to the blends to improve flammability issues commonly associated with thermoplastic composites.

1. Launch of a transformative scientific journal, AgriEngineering. This new peer-reviewed journal allows not just traditional scientific research papers but also methods papers, a first in the field of Agricultural Engineering. Methods papers provide essential "how-to" guides for specific technologies and experiments, accelerating technology transfer and the overall pace of scientific discovery. By enabling the sharing of these methodologies, significant barriers to entry have been removed for research groups venturing into new areas, reducing duplicate efforts, and promoting greater innovation and efficiency within the agricultural engineering community. AgriEngineering, launched in 2019, has now matured to the point where it is SCOPUS indexed, has a CITE-Score of 4.6, and an Impact-Factor of 2.8.

Review Publications
Sayeed, M., Turner, C., Kelly, B., Wanjura, J.D., Smith, W., Schumann, M., Hequet, E. 2023. A new method to calculate cotton fiber length uniformity using the HVI fibrogram. Agronomy Journal. 13(5).
Hardin, R.G., Barnes, E.M., Delhom, C.D., Wanjura, J.D., Ward, J.K. 2022. Internet of things: cotton production and processing. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture.
Funk, P.A., Thomas, J.W., Yeater, K.M., Kothari, N., Armijo, C.B., Whitelock, D.P., Wanjura, J.D., Delhom, C.D. 2022. Gin saw thickness impact on lint turnout, lint value, and seed damage. Applied Engineering in Agriculture. 38(4):645-650.
Delhom, C.D., Wanjura, J.D., Hequet, E.F. 2022. Cotton fiber elongation – a review. Journal of Textile Institute. Article 2157940.
Delhom, C.D., Wanjura, J.D., Pelletier, M.G., Holt, G.A., Hequet, E.F. 2023. Investigation into a practical approach and application of cotton fiber elongation. Journal of Cotton Research. 6. Article 2.
Pelletier, M.G., Wanjura, J.D., Kothari, N., Holt, G.A. 2023. Cotton gin stand machine-vision inspection and removal system for plastic contamination: Auto-calibration design. AgriEngineering. 3(3).
Delhom, C.D., Van Der Sluijs, M.J., Wanjura, J.D., Thomas, J.W. 2023. Evaluation of practices to unwrap round cotton modules. Journal of Cotton Science. 27:90-101.