Machine Systems for Biomass and Specialty Crops
Machine Systems for Biomass Harvesting and Processing
Research in this area focuses on (1) testing mechanical properties of dedicated energy crops; (2) studying field efficiency and capacity of different machine systems for biomass feedstocks harvesting and processing; and (3) modeling biomass feedstocks logistics systems.
Energy crops used in current research projects are warm-season grasses including (a) switchgrass (Panicum virgatums) and (b) miscanthus (Miscanthus x giganteus). Agricultural crop residues (corn stover and wheat straw) are also interests. These biomass resources have unique production and harvest requirements, different biophysical characteristics that will affect upstream preprocessing and downstream production of infrastructure-compatible biofuels.
The goal of this research is to quantify main design parameters of biomass handling machines, such as power requirements and energy consumption, through experimental studies for engineers to find innovative solutions of increasing machine efficiency in a sustainable manner.
Machinery for Specialty Crop Production
The cultivation and harvest of specialty crops for the fresh fruit market are labor intensive. Dr. Liu’s and Dr. Heinemann's research activities in this area include innovative technologies and equipment development for: (1) mechanical fruit thinning; and (2) mechanical harvest-assist systems of specialty crops.
The cultivation and harvest of specialty crops for the fresh fruit market are labor intensive. Labor costs associated with fruit harvest are roughly 40% of an orchard enterprise annual budget, and a national specialty crop engineering solutions task force identified harvest mechanization and automation as a research priority.
Current research projects in this area include innovative technologies and equipment development for: (1) mechanical fruit thinning; and (2) mechanical harvest-assist systems of specialty crops. Mechanical thinning includes non-selective and selective thinning technologies. Mechanical harvest-assist systems involve powered mechanical systems, fluid power system, and simplest gravity-driven units.
In this area, the short-term goal is to achieve reduced labor requirements and improved product quality, and the long-term goals are increased production efficiency, profitability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility in specialty crop systems.
Off-road equipment for agricultural production is another area of interest. Topics include: (1) power performance, traction and rolling resistance, and fuel consumption of off-road power units; (2) soil compaction and tillage operations; (3) crop residue management and relevant farm operation and environmental issues.
These topics are important when investigating the solutions of increasing the field efficiency and capacity of farm equipment in a systematic and/or sustainable manner.