IN two Iowa corn fields in early November, Leifmark LLC and New Holland Agriculture teamed up to test equipment and methods used to gather, bale and store corn stover left behind after the grain harvest.
"Using local specialists and best practices, we showed stover harvesting on area farms is very practical," said Paul Kamp, Leifmark's Chicago, Ill.-based partner who coordinated the 520-bale collection. "That's good news for three ethanol producers now considering new businesses making cellulosic ethanol from biomass."
Developing more efficient methods and equipment lowers the overall cost of stover, explained Kamp, whose company markets Inbicon Biomass Refinery technology in North America.
"Couple lower stover prices with a predictable supply chain, and you reduce risk perceptions with biomass," Kamp added. "So, future plant owners can feel confident putting their capital into cellulosic ethanol projects."
Scott Wangsgard with New Holland emphasized that "technology companies like Inbicon have certain specifications for corn stover bales. To meet them, we've been designing specialized equipment that also boosts collection efficiencies."
For the November test, New Holland used a high-capacity baler and automated bale wagon that picks up, transports and stacks the 3 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft. square bales required for Inbicon's refining process.
"Square bales handle more easily than round ones, store in much less space and pack tighter so flatbed trucks can haul more tonnage per trip," Wangsgard explained.
Bales were gathered with four sets of variables, differing by corn variety, soil type and methods of preparing stover for baling.
Jens Fink, a biomass researcher from Inbicon's Denmark laboratories, and Larry Johnson, a Minnesota-based biomass consultant, were on hand for assessing bale weights, measuring moisture and taking core samples for compositional analysis in both Danish and U.S. laboratories.
Johnson sees important advantages that can be gained by setting an industry standard for stover bale specifications, such as "establishing uniform value for trade, gathering and process efficiencies, more mechanization options and more sustainable removal of stover."
"A set standard also allows process technology companies like Inbicon and process equipment makers to tighten their guarantees," said Leifmark partner Thomas Corle, who works closely with investors on project de-risking.
"Along with efficient harvesting logistics, Leifmark can also integrate the cleanest technologies into biomass refinery projects. That brings the best synergies and investment-grade returns," Corle added.