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Cutting-Edge Science to Feed and Fuel the Future
Iowa Ag Connection - 04/20/2017

What do netwrap, feedlots and testing injection pumps have to do with graduating from the College of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering at South Dakota State University? Through Senior Capstone Design projects, the senior engineering students partner with innovators in the ag industry using the latest technology. The experience provides an opportunity to work on projects that will impact agriculture for future generations.

The designs and work involved in these projects will be showcased at the SDSU Engineering Expo Design Competition April 28 at the Swiftel Center in Brooking from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The public is invited to the Expo to learn from the students.

"The Expo promotes the technologies and creates interest in entrepreneurship. It allows students to demonstrate their knowledge and provide recognition for their efforts," Ag and Biosystems Engineering Instructor Douglas Prairie said.

Turning netwrap and twine intermingled with corn stalks, tree branches and chunks of debris into an efficient fuel source is the challenge presented to one group. The team of three Senior Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering students tapped their brainpower as they searched for a way to efficiently process the waste materials into a useable fuel used at POET-DSM's cellulosic ethanol plant at Emmetsburg, Iowa.

This is the Capstone project chosen by Cody Myers of Columbus, Neb.; Colin LeBrun of Dell Rapids, S.D. and Grant Bose of Slayton, Minn. They developed a less energy-intensive process which increases reliability and decreases cost associated with converting corn stover to biofuels. The process needs to break down the waste material into a form so it can feed the solid fuel boiler system year-round.

LeBrun was realistic that there were issues that didn't always work out. "But we've had some success," he said. "Netwrap is a very hard material to deal with. It's like nothing we've ever seen before. You can't find the flowability of netwrap in a book or go online to figure out how to make this work." LeBrun recently accepted a full-time job with POET in Sioux Falls after graduation. LeBrun firmly believes his offer was a result of his work on this project.

"This is cutting edge and what I thought I'd be doing as an engineer," Bose said. "It's taking a task and finding a solution. A commercial machine isn't available; we made one we think will work." Devising solutions

Prairie outlined the challenges faced by thirteen students as they devise solutions to problems for some of the premier businesses in the industry. The first semester students choose a project, develop a team approach and come up with a design. The second semester is the execution of the project and testing. The prototype or proof of concept at the end of the semester completes the course and is shown at the Expo. Collaboration with sponsors is key to projects with many of the students meeting weekly with them.

"It's like sending the students out with training wheels," Prairie said. "Sometimes they need to be propped up a little. We try to not let them fall and hurt themselves when they run into roadblocks. We guide them. Sometimes they have to wobble before they get going to full speed."

The Ag & Biosystems Engineering (ABE) major prepares students to work with the development and design of systems that impact food sources. The Ag Systems Technology (AST) major teaches students the practical application of new innovations in the agricultural market.

Students Matt Fritzke of Watertown, Minn., and Chandler Jansen of Emery, S.D., partnered with Raven Industries Applied Technology Division to improve the performance and accuracy of Raven's direct injection pump system. Raven, based in Sioux Falls, S.D., manufactures precision agriculture and flow control technologies.

The students designed a test bench to check the system and researched the needed parts. This semester they put together the system and have started measuring actual flow. Repetitions check the accuracy of the data. This work will improve the accuracy of applying chemicals to fields and help minimize crop damage or increased weed survival.

As cattle operations have grown larger, the regulations and concern for environmental factors has expanded. The skills to plan for a new or to expand an existing animal feeding operation are in demand.

Techniques to design a plan to expand a 1,000-head feedlot to a 2,000-head feedlot were developed by a third group. Christopher Waibel of Saint Augusta, Minn., and Lindsay Wallace, Maple Plain, Minn., worked with Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a model that meets needed criteria. The group also followed regulations from the South Dakota Department Environment and Natural Resources.

Planning the settling basin provided the biggest challenge, Wallace said. The site dictates a lot of what the design will be. What they developed is a theoretical design; from their plans, they had to figure out the pros and cons of each design by analyzing the information. In a real-life situation, a farmer would incorporate his preferences.

"We evaluated the plan considering the most effective and most economical way." Waibel said.

"It was a good introduction to this type of work and provided exposure to alternative viewpoints, design concepts and regulations."

Waibel said, "We printed a 3D model of the site design which we'll present to our sponsor and showcase at the design expo. We had a big learning curve, attempting to handle all the bits and pieces and apply it to real-life situations. This was great experience."

"Ag engineering encompasses more than electrical, civil or mechanical," Prairie said. "These students possess a broad base of knowledge. Collaboration with business entities takes the students into the working world to come up with designs for challenges faced by the business. It's more than an academic exercise. By reaching the stated goal, the project will potentially be something that the business will use."

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