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Grain dryer

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Edwin Moore’s grandfather was an innovator who built a structure to store equipment in the 1920s when most others were building barns for workhorses. He was one of the first in Illinois to have wooden grain bins and fill them using augers.

He also developed an early grain dryer in the 1950s.

“Every year he had to put it together and take it apart to store it,” Moore said. “The system worked similar to today.”

In May, Moore, who is a pharmaceutical consultant, continued that tradition by taking part in the 2019 industry advisory board meeting for an organization that is developing “smart dryers.”

The Center for Advanced Research in Drying (CARD) meeting welcomed researchers, executives and innovation leaders from a variety of companies and organizations that use advanced drying systems.

CARD, a National Science Foundation-sponsored center, does research on the drying of food and other agricultural products, chemicals, textiles and biopharmaceuticals. It was founded in 2016 by Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the University of Illinois, said Jamal Yagoobi, the director.

CARD members pay $50,000 annually to participate. Industry participants include the U.S. Army, which uses the technology to develop light-weight nutrition, Nabisco, Hershey, Pepsico and Nestle, all involved in drying everything from milk to corn.

In his update, Yagoobi explained how improving drying processes can save companies money and conserve energy.

“The removal of water and organic compounds through the drying process is one of industry’s most energy-intensive activities,” said Yagoobi. “Drying accounts for 10 percent of all process energy used in American manufacturing.”

Using efficient drying technology will allow the industry to save billions a year, he said.

Among the projects in 2017 was a study of reducing water use in the corn ethanol process, which Deepak Kumar presented for a final review at the event.

“There are more than 200 commercial ethanol plants using this process in the U.S.,” he said. “It is promising technology.”

Other projects presented at the meeting included air-drying paper tissues, studies on jet nozzles and several types of sensors, spray-drying techniques and smart-drying with machine learning.

Sneha Narra, a Worcester Polytechnic Institute mechanical engineering professor, said she is working with smart drying, artificial intelligence and sensors.

Each presentation included information about the relevance of the project, the cost, funding and future work. After hearing the research presentations, industry attendees filled out forms showing their level of interest. The digital feedback will be used in priority-setting and tweaking research efforts.

Jason Bootsma, director of innovation for Flint Hills Resources, which produces a range of fuels and ingredients for many household goods, said he sees value in being a CARD member, since large companies may only focus on what is within their walls, even if they are diverse. The collaborative research efforts help companies like Flint Hills work with academics and others to foster new ideas. He said CARD’s efforts match with the company’s objectives to “save energy and transform the future.”

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