The Heat is On

July 1, 2007 By    

The Propane Education and Research Council (PERC) has discovered another hot project aimed at increasing the fuel’s use nationwide.

Partnering with TEMP-AIR, a provider of temporary heating and cooling services to the construction and industrial industries, PERC is funding research of a thermal remediation mobile unit to rid on-farm storage structures of pests.

“It’s always been a priority area,” says Mark Leitman, PERC’s director of agricultural programs, on the group’s focus on farms. “Heat has a very broad spectrum in its ability to control a whole host of pests. It’s a niche market, and it can grow into a larger market as we expand applications.”

TEMP-AIR, headquartered in Burnsville, Minn., has used propane in pest management applications for the past nine years. The company was exploring new markets for its heating equipment in the summer months and discovered that heat was being promoted as an alternative to chemical fumigation, such as methyl bromide, so it developed a pest management program.

 PERC approved a grant for $183,000 to have TEMP-AIR design the MHT-1500 Mobile Heat Treatment Unit and for Purdue University to conduct the research.
PERC approved a grant for $183,000 to have TEMP-AIR design the MHT-1500 Mobile Heat Treatment Unit and for Purdue University to conduct the research.

“The company was looking for other ways to utilize technology, and it began to target food-processing facilities,” Leitman says. “Now it’s following food product backward through the marketing chain into farm applications — can we apply the same technology where grain is stored or livestock animals are kept?”

TEMP-AIR’s 6,000 heating units, which run on natural gas or propane, are used nationwide and in Canada. The company’s heaters burn approximately 100,000 gallons of propane per day, says Raj Hulasare, senior scientist and product manager at TEMP-AIR. With its partnership with PERC, that rate should increase.

“Propane-fueled pest remediation holds great potential for the ag industry and the propane industry,” Leitman says. “This (market) could equate to sales of nearly 9 million gallons of propane per year to protect the billions of bushels of grain produced throughout the country.”

In April 2006 PERC approved a grant for $183,000 for TEMP-AIR to design the MHT-1500 heating unit and for Purdue University to conduct research and field trials. Tests continue at Purdue, with demonstrations planned for neighboring farms later this year, Hulasare says.

“We hope the MHT-1500 will allow us to grow in this segment, considering the portability and convenience of a propane-fueled mobile unit,” Hulasare says. “Lack of infrastructure for natural gas for on-farm storage structures as well as on remotely located processing plants makes this an attractive proposition.”

PERC conducted a survey four years ago to determine the extent of propane use on large farms. It discovered that approximately 80 percent of farmers use the gas in some way.

A random sampling of pests
A random sampling of pests

“They already have it, and they’re already accustomed to using it,” Leitman says. “They’re just not accustomed to moving it around.”

TEMP-AIR describes the MHT-1500 as a non-chemical, non-residual and environmentally friendly alternative for farm and/or processing facilities where alternative fuel sources may not be readily available. It also may be used to eradicate pests in storage structures for organic crops and food grains requiring non-chemical treatment.

“Heat is an approved organic means of pest control for farmers,” Leitman says.

The MHT-1500 is a trailer-mounted system that incorporates a 1.5-million Btu/hr propane-fueled direct-fired make-up heater to pressurize the building, in addition to a propane generator, digital controls, fabric ducts and on-board propane storage of 150 gallons. The unit burns an estimated 20 gallons per hour for approximately seven hours.

As a pre-harvest preventative measure, the storage space is heated with outside air to a minimum of 120 degrees for eight to 24 hours. The ductwork ensures that the heat penetrates wall cavities and cracks to kill the lifecycle of the insects, such as the maize weevil and red flour beetle, attempting to escape the heat. No special modifications to a silo or bin are needed since the existing manhole for bin entry or aeration transition can be used in the heating process.

“We’ve tested extremes so we know what does work and to some extent what doesn’t work,” Leitman says. “We need to find a more exact time and temperature.”


Leitman foresees the MHT-1500 having “nationwide potential,” with uses in grain-producing states, organic markets and “sensitive areas,” which ban chemical use around schools, parks or streams.

“We have plans to complete testing at Purdue, look at the report and plan for more demonstration, either by branching out to more farm buildings in 2008 or beginning to demonstrate on specific farms and get more producers exposed to heat treatments in pest control,” Leitman says. “We need to continue to learn where it works and where it doesn’t, and promote what we know.”

PERC hopes that by 2010 the agricultural industry will recognize propane as a preferred energy source offering exceptional value.

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