Portable popcorn maker saves Minnesota farms, maybe

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Do you remember the old neighborhood knife sharpener? You know, the guy who came around with his stone wheel and sharpened your kitchen knives. Well, a University of Minnesota biosystems engineer is bringing that business concept back, but his piece of equipment is much more high-tech and geared for rural communities.

Roger Ruan has already commissioned a camper-sized prototype of his mobile bio-fuel plant which will travel from farm to farm, allowing producers to turn their their crops into bio-fuel.

For mobility sake, Ruan had to ditch the bulky grinder, which typically crushes down the grain to produce the fuel. In it’s place, Ruan did what anyone would do when trying to “pop” corn and other grains; he added a microwave. The microwave produced enough heat to separate the oils from the carbon bases contained in the grain. The end products of the process are a carbon ash, which can be recycled as fertilizer; a combustible gas, which powers the whole unit; and finally the bio-fuel.  For every pound of biomass added to the machine, half a pound of bio-fuel is collected.

These types of innovations are exactly what Minnesota, and America, need to stay ahead in the developing green energy economy. Cutting  funds for research universities is no way to stimulate innovation. But you can do your part to fight back and help spur imaginative research by using bio-fuels. Next time you’re out, and if your vehicle can handle it, fill up with some E85 and support your local farmers and creative minds like Roger Ruan. Eventually, we’d like to have most fossil fuels go the way of the old neighborhood knife sharpener.