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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Cotton Ginning Research » Research » Research Project #438000

Research Project: Improving the Production and Processing of Western and Long-Staple Cotton and Companion Crops to Enhance Quality, Value, and Sustainability

Location: Cotton Ginning Research

2021 Annual Report

Objective 1: Integrate new information and technologies for new cultivars, and production/handling practices to enhance quality and utility of Western and long-staple cotton for ginning. Subobjective 1: Improve or enhance cotton fiber ginnability, textile utility, and cottonseed end-use value of new germplasm releases of both Upland and Pima cottons. Objective 2: Develop and integrate new or improved ginning technologies, methods, and processes to enhance product quality and value, increase process efficiencies, and reduce environmental risk of Western and other long-staple cottons. Subobjective 2A: Improve seed cotton conditioning and foreign matter and contamination extraction. Subobjective 2B: Develop improved ginning technologies to increase efficiency and productivity and enhance fiber quality. Subobjective 2C: Improve or enhance fiber quality and end use. Objective 3: Enable commercial technologies that support processing of cotton companion crops. Subobjective 3: Assist tree nut industries in improving process efficiency and reducing environmental risk.

The Southwestern Cotton Ginning Research Laboratory (SWCGRL) mission is to develop technologies that solve problems directly affecting, or being affected by, the cotton ginning industry to maximize the economic viability and competitiveness and minimize the environmental impact of the U.S. cotton production and processing system. To carry out this mission, our core problem is to address critical cotton and related companion crop production, ginning or processing, textile processing, and regulatory compliance issues - especially those pertaining to Western irrigated cottons. The cotton production and processing chain is an integrated system that starts with plant breeders selecting cultivars for yield and other factors. It includes cultural practices and harvesting, seed-cotton drying and cleaning, ginning, lint cleaning, bale packaging, shipping, storage, marketing, spinning, weaving, finishing, and garment making. U.S. agriculture, including cotton, has increasingly become more integrated where companion and rotation crop systems rely on and influence one another. Similarly, environmental impact and compliance plays a significant role in agricultural production and processing. In this 5-year research cycle, our group will use engineering, understanding of ginning systems and agricultural processing, and knowledge of the factors that affect cotton quality to assist cotton breeders in developing easier-ginning higher-quality cultivars; to develop ginning solutions for superior foreign matter removal, more efficient and lower cost operations, and less fiber and cottonseed damage; to assist agricultural industries in reducing environmental footprints and complying with regulations; and to develop information and technologies that increase process efficiencies and enhance economic viability of cotton companion crops.

Progress Report
To address the three main objectives, progress focused on cotton production, ginning, and companion crop processing. Objective 1- ARS researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, cooperated with several Western cotton breeders, including Texas Agrilife Extension that was conducting El Paso County Cotton Variety Trials; New Mexico State University (NMSU) cotton breeding program that was producing new cotton germplasm lines with improved yield potential, fiber quality, and drought tolerance; and a seed company that was developing a long-staple hybrid cotton. ARS provided gin expertise and ginned experimental cottons to produce pure seed for future planting and cotton lint samples for quality analyses. Work continued on a project to investigate cotton fiber properties produced by model-sized gin stands used by breeders to predict properties for cotton that will be machine-harvested and processed in a commercial ginning environment. Literature was reviewed to document previous studies on the engineering performance of a reciprocating roller gin stand and model-sized saw- and roller-gin stands. A previously retired, full scale, reciprocating-knife roller gin stand was refurbished and installed by unit personnel in the Laboratory’s roller gin for the upcoming test. Objective 2 - To evaluate ginning methods that improve fiber length uniformity of ginned cotton, analyses of cotton samples from gin tests on conventional and experimental machines that use different methods for cleaning ginned cotton lint were completed. Fiber properties on samples taken from the lint cleaning machine were determined at the USDA-Agricultural Marketing Service, Cotton Classing Office and Cotton Incorporated. Analysis was begun to determine the engineering performance of the different lint cleaning technologies. In cooperation with researchers at New Mexico State Univeristy to determine ginning costs of ginneries in the Far West was continued. An economic survey was sent to saw and roller ginneries in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Far West Texas to inquire about items such as machinery type, ginning volume, and operational expenses. Data analysis was conducted to determine ginning costs of saw ginning, conventional roller ginning, and high-speed roller ginning. At the request of industry stakeholders, including Cotton Incorporated, a project to investigate how seed coat fragments are created, the damage they cause during textile processing, and methods to alleviate them in the ginnery was initiated. ARS is leading a cross-disciplinary team of ARS and university researchers and industry professionals from across the U.S. in conducting an extensive review of recent cotton seed coat fragment research, covering all facets of the cotton industry including cotton breeding, production, harvesting, ginning, and textile operations. This review will help direct future research and funding to address the long-standing problem of seed coat fragments in ginned cotton. An industry supported project to develop a new technology to separate contaminating plastic from seed cotton by exploiting the difference in melting point was continued. Testing to determine optimal heating method and operating temperature on a single cylinder prototype was completed. A multi-cylinder prototype was designed, and fabrication begun. The performance of a cotton plastic contamination cleaner manufactured by a Chinese gin machinery company was compared to that of typical cotton gin cotton cleaning machinery. Tests showed that the machine removed pieces of plastic better that the typical cotton gin machinery. Also, pieces of lightweight round module wrap (RMW) and shopping bags were removed from cotton at rates within the range of the manufacturer’s claims, but thicker heavy-weight RMW was not effectively removed. Increasing the airflow to the cleaner increased the plastic capture rate, but also increased the amount of seed cotton captured with the plastic to unacceptable levels. Modifications to the contamination cleaner to improve performance are being investigated. The second year of a cooperative project to study gin saw wear and power consumption in response to saw thickness and cryogenic treatment was conducted at a commercial gin facility. Saw weight, thickness, tooth area, and damaged tooth count were measured to quantify wear. Material properties and microstructure changes due to cryogenic treatment that may explain results were measured and analyzed. A third year of commercial gin facility testing was planned. As an extension of the saw thickness and cryogenic treatment field study, sets of 16-inch diameter gin saws of two different thicknesses were installed and tested. Energy data was analyzed. Fiber and collected seed samples were sent to independent labs for analysis. A study to develop high-capacity reclaimers for the growing high-speed roller-ginning industry was continued. Analysis of data from previous tests indicated that the experimental reclaimers operated in series may have benefits over single machines. Repairs and modifications to the prototype machines in anticipation of further tests was begun. Objective 3 - To reduce the energy footprint of walnut hulling operations, progress was made on new dryer technologies: 1) A review of the literature related to walnut drying was completed; 2) a research agreement was established to develop a proprietary technology proven effective in grain drying for walnut drying; 3) Fall 2021 field tests at a cooperating walnut hulling facility were planned and preparations made, including developing and fabricating innovative walnut sampling equipment for the experiments. ARS researchers in Las Cruces continued collaborations with NMSU in support of their efforts to develop chile pepper cultivars suited to mechanical harvest (chile peppers are a companion crop, grown in rotation with irrigated Western cottons).

1. Extending the life of steel machine parts for agriculture using cryogenics. Deep cryogenic treatment (DCT) is a thermal process where steel tools or parts are slowly lowered to the temperature of liquid nitrogen and held there for 1 to 3 days before slowly being brought back to room temperature. This process has been used for nearly a century to improve the hardness and wear-resistance of steel, but, as researchers don’t agree on which changes brought about by DCT result in better performance, there is no measurable property to quantify the extent of DCT. As part of an applied research project using DCT to extend the life of cotton gin stand saws, ARS and New Mexico State University researchers in Las Cruces, New Mexico, conducted fundamental research to answer the question of how DCT changes steel. They found a difference in electrical resistance between steel with and without DCT and proposed a novel use of electrical resistance measurements to quantify the effect of DCT on the properties of steel. This work provides a means to better understand the effects of DCT on steel, will aid researchers using DCT to extend the life of tools and machine parts, and could lead to treated parts like cotton gin saws that would require less frequent replacement and reduce maintenance costs.

Review Publications
Funk, P.A., Kanaan, A., Shank, C., Cooke, P., Sevostianov, I., Thomas, J.W., Pate, M.O. 2021. Quantifying deep cryogenic treatment extent and its effect on steel properties. International Journal of Engineering Science. 167. Article 103521.