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					                          C A S E S T U D Y:    SOLAR - CENTRAL REGION


  helping Minnesota
                          Heating Things Up on the Farm: Crop Drying
communities determine     with Solar Air Heat in Central Minnesota
  their energy future
                          By Kathleen McCarthy • August 2011

                          Since 2000, the Rural Renewable Energy Alliance
                          (RREAL) has been serving low income communities
                          in Central Minnesota by developing, manufacturing,
                          and installing solar hot water and air heaters to help
                          families reduce their heating fuel dependence and
                          lower their energy bills. Now, RREAL is exploring
                          other applications for sustainable energy.

                          Traditionally, agricultural crop drying uses a lot of
                          electricity to run high heated fans. Crop drying is
                          one of the most energy intensive operations of grain
                          farming. RREAL believes that using solar thermal          RREAL is located in central MN in Pine River. They share a
C E R Ts PA R T N E R S                                                             campus with the Hunt Utilities Group (HUG).
                          for air heating could significantly reduce the amount
University of Minnesota   of electricity needed for this process. Farmers in
Extension and Regional    Minnesota are feeling the cost of crop drying and are     To begin, the team consulted with both the
Sustainable               looking for alternatives that are less energy intensive   University of Minnesota Extension Service and the
Development               and more cost effective.                                  North Dakota State University Extension Service
Partnerships                                                                        because both institutions had literature and
                          “Having changed dramatically in the past century,         resources regarding agricultural crop drying and
Eureka Recycling
                          crop drying today is an energy intensive process,         solar crop drying, in particular. “Dr. Kenneth
Southwest Regional        heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Our state’s food       Hellevang, of NDSU, was particularly helpful in
Development               and energy security are somewhat vulnerable to the
Commission                                                                          guiding us to relevant documentation,” said Edens.
                          vagaries of fuel supply and expense,” explains Jason
The Minnesota Project     Edens, one of RREAL’s researchers for this project.
Minnesota Department                                                                  Project Snapshot
                          In 2008, RREAL decided to research solar air heat as
of Commerce, Division
                          a crop drying method and “outline the benefits of           Project:
of Energy Resources
                          using this appropriate technology in an application         Research on the use of solar air heating for crop
                          that has great potential to significantly contribute to     drying
                          Minnesota’s goals of reduced fossil fuel dependency         Benefits of Solar Air Heating:
                          and resulting improved environment,” explains               Decrease use of fossil fuels, reduce emissions,
                          Edens.                                                      build resilience against rising fuel prices,
                                                                                      economic savings
                          The project was spearheaded by Edens and then
                                                                                      Conclusions:
                          RREAL’s research coordinator, Sarah Hayden. They
                                                                                      Supplemental solar crop drying in Minnesota can
                          were motivated to find the appropriate role for solar
                                                                                      be an economically and technically feasible
                          hot air technology in the crop drying process.
                                                                                      technology
                          “Although it would certainly benefit us if we
                          discovered our technology were appropriate for crop         Partners:
                                                                                      University of Minnesota Extension Service and
                          drying, our motivation was to determine the
                                                                                      the North Dakota State University Extension
                          applicability and appropriateness for the technology
                                                                                      Service
                          as a whole, not just our collector in particular.”
                                                                                      Grant:
                                                                                      $5,000 from Central CERT



                                                    W W W. C L E A N E N E R G Y R E S O U R C E T E A M S . O R G
“The literature revealed that a great many farmers throughout the world have been, are and
will continue to utilize solar air heat as part of their agricultural processing. In addition to
agricultural crops, there are a great many folks in Minnesota who are using solar heat for
silvicultural crop drying processes,” explains Edens. Yet because the upfront cost of
installing a solar air heat panel is often higher than a traditional crop drying machine, many
farmers see the cost as prohibitive and are not willing to give it a try.

Despite the upfront costs, many long term economic, environmental, and social benefits can
arise from utilizing a solar crop drying method, Edens argues. “Farmers employing solar
crop drying methods would experience economic savings, with a specific payback period to
be determined by the end of this project. Should we discover crop drying to be an
appropriate application for solar, as we suspect, this project would have significant
economic impact in central Minnesota through sales of locally manufactured solar collectors
specifically designed for that application.”

Additionally, reducing the amount of electricity needed to crop drying by incorporating
solar air heat to the process will significantly decrease the amount of unsustainable fossil
fuels being burned.

Edens also identifies social benefits of renewable crop drying. “It will also make small
agricultural communities and farmers more resilient against the impact of rising fossil fuel
costs. Energy crises will make crop drying financially challenging. At a time when small
farmers are struggling to maintain their way of life, renewable and sustainable farming                              One of RREAL’s solar-powered furnaces

methods make sense for the individual farmer and state.”

With the help of a CERTs grant, RREAL was able to dedicate staff time to investigating solar
thermal crop drying and ways to engage farms with the technology. The conclusion of the
literature review revealed that “generally, the literature is positive about the use of solar heat
in crop drying applications in diverse settings throughout the world. In Minnesota, solar
crop drying was determined to be technically feasible in a supplemental setting when
excluding the costs and benefits of externalities. In summary, supplemental solar crop
drying in Minnesota can be an economically and technically feasible technology when used
in combination with a low temperature crop dryer.”

The research team plans to continue this project by developing ways to implement the
practice in Minnesota.


For more information about the report, please contact Jason Edens at info@rreal.org or by
                                                                                                                     RREAL solar furnaces used in a series for commercial heating
calling 218-587-4753.




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                                              W W W. C L E A N E N E R G Y R E S O U R C E T E A M S . O R G

				
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