In an exclusive interview with Ag Equipment Intelligence, Howard Dahl, president and CEO of the Fargo, N.D., manufacturer of farm machinery, says it’s developing machinery that will help improve the economics of transporting biomass. This is a major hurdle in expanding use of biofuels produced from cellulosic materials.

“Clearly we haven’t seen the big breakthrough in biomass for biofuels yet,” says Dahl. “At the heart of biomass economics is transporting the material. We’re working on something for the compression of the biomass, to take it and make it very dense for transport. The equipment that we’re researching right now could work regardless of the crop — corn stover, switchgrass, miscanthus or whatever.

“There are machines in Switzerland and China designed to compress these materials, but their price tags are something like $500,000, and their throughput isn’t great. We have a prototype that we’re fine-tuning. On paper the engineering calculations look very good. Theoretically, it will handle more throughput at roughly one-tenth the cost than other equipment that is currently being used. It still has a long way to go to be viable, but it’s interesting enough that we’ve been working on it for some time,” says Dahl.

Amity manufactures sugar beet planting and harvesting machinery and soil-sampling equipment. Recently, it introduced an air seeder for both no-till and conventional tillage markets.

Its connection with sugar beets also represents another strong possibility for Amity to expand its business in biofuels.

“We hope that tropical sugar beets become a player in production of biofuels. There’s some compelling evidence that sugar beets are a much better source of ethanol than corn. In the tropics, they may even be a better source than sugar cane. With the same amount of water, farmers can get two crops in annually compared with only one cane harvest per year.

“There are varieties of tropical sugar beets being developed for this purpose,” says Dahl.

— From Ag Equipment Intelligence, December 2009