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Science fiction ag

Agriculture.com Staff 03/16/2007 @ 1:11pm

Ethanol's impact on agriculture is both huge and recent. We are adjusting to what has happened and what will happen.

Ten years ago, ethanol was an interesting thought that looked like it was a good idea. Fortunately, there were people then who were working on its feasibility so it could become both practical and economical. They were the people who wanted to turn a dream and an idea into reality. They had the qualities of vision, imagination and perseverance.

Cellulosic ethanol is talked about as the next growth area for ethanol. A new generation of ethanol plants will process sources such as corn stalks and switch grass into ethanol. Today, it is a good idea that is being worked on to become practical and economical much as research of corn-based ethanol was being refined and improved not that many years ago.

While the ethanol people are working on their process to transform cellulose into ethanol on a large scale, we have our own method to work on getting the cellulose material into a form that is usable by the ethanol plant.

Here is a job that is so new I just thought of it. The only qualification for the job is that you can see beyond the horizon. I would try for the job myself but I can only see to the horizon.

Let me expand a little more about my job idea by saying that if you are a science fiction reader it may be to your advantage. If you are not a science fiction fan, a very good imagination will be helpful.

What kind of a job am I describing that requires a good imagination along with a science fiction background? If you think you have the qualifications, then the job I have just thought up is agricultural science fiction writer.

As an agricultural science fiction writer, your first assignment is to tell me what machine is going to be used to gather corn stalks and switch grass and put them in a form that can be transported to the new cellulosic ethanol plant.

Where would we start? This machine would be comparable to a baler in all likelihood. It would gather cornstalks or switch grass in the front end and out the back would be the compressed and tied bale in a form ready for transport and storage. Will there be a standard size to fit the machinery at the ethanol plant?

Quality issues will need to be addressed. How much moisture is too much? Proper storage will be needed to maintain quality.

Then there is the matter of handling and transportation. How are you going to move this compressed cellulose to the ethanol plant or how to store it to maintain quality? Augers and hopper bottom trailers are out of the question. What worked for moving corn and soybeans cannot be used at all for this job.

Gathering and processing cellulose for ethanol will evolve in the years to come. We have never done anything like this before; it is an all new area.

As an agricultural science fiction writer, you have your assignment. Is this machine going to be self-propelled? Are you going to have it be part of another machine? Maybe it could be attached to a combine or maybe it could be one great do it all at once, one time across the field machine that harvests both grain and cellulose? There will be a bin for grain and a platform for the baled cellulose. Trucks will be hauling both from the field as harvest moves along.

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Farm Science Review, Day Two