Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brothers of Invention Turn Cobs Into Potential Gold

Des Moines Register | Published May 13, 2007

Brothers of invention turn cobs into potential gold

Twins’ innovation collectscorn waste for biofuel use


Nebraska City, Neb. — For the past 10 years, harvesting corn and selling the cobs has been a humble little business for Ty and Jay Stukenholtz, 34-year-old twin brothers. By trial and error, computer designing, tinkering and banging away, the Stukenholtz brothers, who farm the 350-acre family farm near Nebraska City, came up with a way to harvest corn cobs and kernels at the same time and keep the materials separate. Until now, the brothers’ invention has had limited appeal because of the small market for corn cobs, save as cattle feed or in some limited industrial uses.

But that might be about to change as ethanol makers look into producing ethanol from crop residue and other biomass, including the cobs, leaves and stalks from corn plants.
“Our goal was to build a cleaner that can attach to the back of a combine with a tank on top for the cobs,” Ty said.
“It’s universal, so it fits on any combine,” said Jay, finishing Ty’s thought.
Ty and Jay are identical twins except for the fact that Ty is right-handed and Jay is left-handed. Their thinking is as complementary as their dexterity, they say, so they form two halves of an inventing whole.
In January, Pihlblad and the Stukenholtz twins formed a limited liability company called Ceres Agriculture Consultants, based in Waukee. The company intends to produce or license the twins’ biomass collection system to a farm equipment manufacturer and provide other renewable fuel services.
The brothers have made about a dozen different versions of their cob collector. Their 10th version is attached to a 2388 Case IH combine.

As the combine moves through the field, it pulls whole corn plants into the corn head mounted on the front of the combine. Corn kernels are separated from the cobs and other parts of the corn plant and the kernels are routed into the combine’s conventional grain storage tank. The Stukenholtz brothers’ innovation fits on the back of a combine, where the leaves, cobs and other shredded corn plant residue is normally flung out and onto the ground. Instead, the brothers have come up with a device that consists of a series of sieves and fans that separate the different parts of the corn residue as it moves to the back of the combine. The cobs, once separated from the other parts of the corn plant, are sent to a tank that sits atop the combine. The tank is designed to slide to one side so it can discharge the cobs into a wagon.

Other plant residues like soybean pods also can be gleaned by setting the sieves and fans in a different configuration.

It’s been 10 years since the Stukenholtz brothers started tinkering around with a corn cob collector. They’ve made about a dozen versions, including one that is being used by Dan Allen of Allendan Seed Co. in Winterset.
But it’s in the emerging field of cellulosic ethanol that the Stukenholtz brothers and Pihl-blad think their machine will really take off.
Poet, the ethanol producer formerly known as Broin Cos., plans to use corn cobs to make ethanol at its Emmetsburg plant. Poet has said the plant will need 450 to 500 tons of cobs a day to make cellulosic ethanol.
Although Birrell said he hasn’t seen the Stukenholtzes’ attachment at work, cellulosic ethanol production will need innovations like theirs to solve roadblocks to produce ethanol from biomass.

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1 comment:

Nick said...

Do they know about the wood chip/pellet/gas power plant. as well as willow harvesting in Sweden for the same purpose, I am interested in researching that idea, yet that is just a hobby and if I cannot find a practical use of it, I'll put it on hold.