Conveying with Confidence
Each commodity, whether it is soybean, wheat, coal or WDG, presents its own unique set of problems. Some are abrasive and quickly wear down conveying equipment, while others are sticky and slow down or plug up the conveying process. WDG is not only sticky, but also corrosive to metal. It's important for feed mills and ethanol producers to use specialized conveyors, built for the facility's particular application.
Tramco, Inc. has been providing the agricultural community with custom made conveyors since 1967. "We've been in the business for 40 years. We have qualified engineers that really sit down with customers and we help them with more than just building," Steve Cloud, President of Tramco, proudly says. The company built roughly 240 new conveyors for the ethanol industry alone in 2007 alone, according to Cloud.
When Tramco's engineers assess a facility to determine what type of conveyor would be the best for their application, many factors are taken into consideration. Tramco outside sales engineer Tim Schmitz lists a series of determinants.
"You have to look at the whole picture from the installation to where it's going to go. Will it be horizontal or going through a tunnel? How tight is the space? We also take into consideration what the commodity is and at what capacity the conveyor will run, which is measured in bushels or tons per hour or day," Schmitz says.
Cloud and Schmitz both recommend to anyone handling WDG to use stainless steel conveyors. Stainless steel is a high-quality metal that maintains its natural integrity for a longer period of time than other metals do. The co-product coming out of the distillery is very corrosive and even stainless steel will show signs of tarnishing after a period of time. However, Cloud is aware of ethanol facilities that have been using the same conveyors for eight to 10 years without a problem.
As is true with all industrial agricultural equipment, maintenance is the key to running an effective conveyor. Schmitz warns that facility maintenance crews should pay special attention to the conveyor's chains. Running a chain too tight could cause it to wear out quickly. A loose chain can be problematic as well, depending on the size of the load. The larger the amount of product being moved daily, the more often one should check the chain tension. Especially on new installations and when a chain has been replaced.
Cloud advises plant managers to carefully monitor the speed of the conveyor. Slower is better, and will help the conveyor last longer. Be conscious of the product you're moving. Stickier, wetter substances, like corn gluten or WDG, should not be conveyed at a high speed, as it will plug the conveyor, potentially causing long-term damage.
Although loading and handling WDG is no walk in the park, high demand for the co-product makes it worthwhile for ethanol facilities to work out the kinks and use preservatives to extend its shelf life.
Biofuels in the News
Context Releases Renewable Fuels Findings
A new white paper just released by The Context Network exposes the impacts of the government's Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) on agriculture over the next 14 years. The report evaluates three time brackets within that 14-year period and it assesses whether requirements of the law could be met. It also appraises the actual impact in each time period and for specific feedstocks contributing to biofuel production.
Context Network senior consultant Jim Murphy was the principal author of this white paper. "Rather than simply assuming all provisions of EISA would be met, this report is based on our analysis of what volumes of different biofuels will actually be produced and the actual impact on corn, soybean oil, sorghum and cellulosic feedstock, demand, total acres, crop prices and the effect on net returns per acre," Murphy said.
Murphy noted that cornstarch-based ethanol has more potential than some may think, but that biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol face considerable economic challenges.