Perspectives Online

College innovation breathes new life into old equipment


Photo by Dave Caldwell

In the late '90s, tobacco barns were switched from direct-fire to heat-exchange curing systems, in an effort to reduce carcinogens in tobacco products. Since then, a lot of unused direct-fire curing equipment has been gathering dust in storage sheds across the Southeast. Farmers interested in finding ways to put this equipment to good use - or perhaps in growing an alternate crop - now have a solution, thanks to a recent innovation by College of Agriculture and Life Sciences agricultural engineers, that uses old tobacco burners to dry peanuts.

Justin Macialek, a research assistant in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, designed the "recycled" peanut dryer (shown above) with farmers' best interests in mind. Constructed on top of a 5'x 5' trailer, the dryer can be easily transported into the field. It also has extension cords that enable it to connect to a generator in remote locations with no power. With four ducts, the dryer can cure loads of peanuts in the wagon - and several wagons at once. All of the materials used to construct the dryer are standard stock items, which keeps costs down.

So, how does the dryer work? Air enters from above, circulates through the fan, moves down onto the burner and out through the ducts that are hooked up to peanut wagons. The heat then percolates through the peanuts, rising upward and exiting through the tops of the uncovered wagons. The entire machine, which uses all the trailer space, stands 10 feet from the ground.

"Our main goal was to provide a way for farmers to use old tobacco equipment for a new job," Macialek says. "We've also been told that it's becoming harder and harder for peanut farmers to find drying equipment and replacement parts."

Because the dryer employs both electrical and gas systems, it is equipped with several safety features. There are high-limit switches that prevent the fan from becoming too hot, a thermostat that controls the burner and a module that monitors the gas flow. As Macialek describes it, the system also is wired with an air-flow switch that serves as "double back-up," preventing the burner from turning on unless the fan is producing adequate air flow. Screens above the fan block debris from entering the burner, which prevents fire in the peanut trailers.

- Suzanne Stanard