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Using Corn To Dry Corn

Is a corn-fired corn dryer in your future?

Farmers are known for innovation, and one of the fun things about working for Penn State Extension is that we get to meet many of these innovators and learn about how they are finding new solutions to problems. In this article, we're going to feature some pretty interesting work that is being done by some farmers we met during a recent workshop.

"It slices, it dices, it washes the dishes"

Well, corn might not be quite that versatile, but farmers in nearby Vermont are finding that corn is useful for more than just feed. Paul and Mark Boivin are former Vermont dairy farmers who came to the surprising conclusion that, in most years, the corn they were growing had more value as an energy source than as feed. "We saw that the price of corn was selling for less than the price of fuel oil, on a per million btu basis. So, we started burning corn (instead of oil) wherever we could". "A bushel of corn equals 2.8 gallons of fuel oil, which at $2.45 a gallon means that any time they replace fuel oil with corn energy they are getting $6.86 of value per bushel" says Paul. This is not just an economic move, it also makes sense on an energy basis, according to Penn State agronomy professor Greg Roth: “Corn produces six to seven times as much energy as you put into the process of growing it”.

 The first step for the Boivins was to buy a home heating furnace designed to burn corn - and that worked great. As they analyzed their operation, they asked "why not use corn to dry our corn after it is harvested?" They purchased a corn furnace, built a plenum to connect it to their grain bin, and in due course they were able to say goodbye to high fuel bills for grain drying. In many cases, they have been able to use corn that would have gone as waste. "Everybody always has some waste somewhere in the operation - moldy corn, tailings, leftovers etc. - rather than pitching it you can burn it for heat." Sweet corn that is past its prime and unsaleable is another source of fuel that the Boivins have seen used.

The Boivins are so pleased with how the corn has worked for them, that they now sell corn to neighbors for them to use to heat their homes. "Our customers are a broad base" says Paul, including homeowners with corn burning furnaces, and greenhouses. "We have some people that want to burn local fuel" adds Mark. For those of us not familiar with corn as a heating fuel, it actually works quite well - Corn is a naturally occurring fuel pellet with about 19 GJ of energy per ton A variety of furnaces and boilers are available on the market to burn corn for heat. However, it does take a little while to adjust to how it performs. "Wood pellets and corn burn differently" says Mark. "Corn has to be stirred in order to burn. If you don't agitate it, it eventually goes out."

Another thing to keep in mind is that currently available corn furnaces may not work for every size operation. "People who are processing 15-30k bushels per year could adopt this and use it" while larger operations with continuous flow dryers may not be in a position to use it yet. "I don't think the technology is there yet (for continuous flow drying). "

Their advice for farmers who are interested in this is that they should take their time, and learn as much as possible before committing to the system. "A farmer interested in this should start out slow. Get into the marketplace, see what's available." But all things considered, they seem quite pleased with how it has worked for them. "Corn, even at today's lower fuel prices, is still less expensive than oil"

Trending Video

Grain Bin Project Complete!

Video: Grain Bin Project Complete!

Harvest is wrapped, and so is our grain bin project. We started this back in March by tearing down some old bins to make way for the new grain system. In the process we've added speed in unloading and drying while adding 70,000 bushels of storage to the farm.