PCI Awarded New USDA Grant for Agricultural Steam Generator for Soil Disinfestation

OCTOBER 21, 2014

(North Haven, CT) Precision Combustion Inc. (PCI) announced today that it has been awarded a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) SBIR Phase II grant to develop a prototype for a compact mobile soil steaming system for soil disinfestation. This project offers to enhance U.S. agricultural productivity, reduce chemicals use in crop production, and increase availability of organically grown foods.

PCI has developed a new design for a compact, high-heat-rate catalytic combustor steam generator that can be integrated into a mobile soil sterilization system. In this USDA project, PCI will coordinate with a team including university, specialty agricultural equipment, grower and soil treatment experts to develop and build a full scale prototype and support field trials directed to the fall 2015 strawberry planting season, exploring both tool operability and field productivity.

Soil disinfestation removes soil pathogens, pests and weeds that limit crop health and production. Chemical fumigants such as methyl bromide and chloropicrin are currently used for this purpose in open fields, especially for high value annual plants such as strawberries and other berries, as well as for other uses including commercial flowers and golf courses.

For example, the economically important California strawberry crop is a marvel of American agricultural productivity, producing some $70,000 of berries per acre - 30% of the world’s strawberries from a mere 40,000 acres of land. To achieve this high yield growers fumigate the soil with methyl bromide. Although the Montreal Protocol calls for phasing out methyl bromide, California growers operate under a critical use exemption as no economic alternative has been identified.

Soil steaming has been shown to be as effective in boosting crop yields as methyl bromide, and is currently used in greenhouses, but has not been widely embraced for open field agriculture due to difficulties in deploying a mobile high rate steam applicator and associated high costs. Conventional steam boilers and their ancillary equipment are too bulky to create relatively small, light-weight and efficient field systems, plus they require the use of high purity water.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Weissman, Principal Investigator for this project, “In addition to weight savings, significantly higher heat rates, and the use of field water, the PCI steam generator will be energy efficient and clean burning, enabling a viable field steaming system.” Kevin Burns, PCI President, adds “We envision a new agricultural machine with the ability to rapidly treat farmland while having costs lower than the current alternatives. This will offer farmers a way to boost crop yields while reducing use of chemicals. Also, I’m very hopeful for the technology’s ability to boost organic farm production.”

Precision Combustion, Inc. is a clean energy technology company developing and manufacturing catalytic devices and systems for energy sector applications.  To learn more, visit precision-combustion.com.

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