I learned something new today: a sunflower can set a tractor on fire!
What began as a day of planting sunflower stubble quickly turned into a disaster as Charlie Edlinger’s new tractor burst into flames from the dry stalks in minutes.
“I quickly reached out and grabbed the stem and did my best to pull it out, but after 20 seconds I realized it was kind of a lost cause. , my brother and I called and said, ‘Please contact the fire department as soon as possible,'” Edlinger said. “I basically had to turn to this area with less residue and blow downwind into the wind so the air seeder could be retrieved. because I knew [Ariana Schumacher, “Scorched by Sunflowers,” KELO-TV, 2022.10.21].
Unsurprisingly, SDSU investigated the issue and found that oily sunflower residue can ignite at lower temperatures than other crop dusts.
To analyze this question, master’s student Joseph Paulin, now a Ph.D. I discovered that it ignites with temperature. Additionally, researchers found that most of the debris stuck to the combine was white pith. This is drawn into the fan which draws air through the radiator to cool the engine.
“Some of this dust ignites when it hits the turbocharger and exhaust system.” [professor Dan] Hamburg said. “Once a fire is lit, sparks can easily be transferred.” Many machine parts (fiberglass shields, wire harnesses, flexible hoses, plastic fuel tanks) can catch fire.
Higher engine loads increase the temperature of the exhaust system, increasing the chance of a fire, Hamberg said.Sunflower growers report monitoring fuel usage and rated engine load to identify points at which combine fires quickly erupt [“Preventing Sunflower Fires,” SDSU: Connect, Summer 2014].
Edlinger said the new tractors have added safety features that could increase the risk of sunflower fires.
“Sunflowers are a high fire risk crop. This new equipment has more protective shielding around the tractor engine. Unfortunately, much of this protective shielding can trap residue and combustion. It’s there and it’s difficult for the residue to fall off, so it contains residue and stays trapped within the engine area,” Edlinger said. [Schumacher, 2022.10.21].
To avoid a sunflower fire, the tractor engine must be run at low speed and paused to blow the sunflower dust out of the machine. Both cost growers valuable harvest time. The now retired Professor Hamberg’s research has led to the development of mechanical solutions to further reduce the risk of fire.
The kit uses an enclosure to house the hot exhaust components and a pressurized blower to filter the airflow to remove all white dust.
“Clean air is forced into the enclosure around the exhaust system by a blower, and the clean air flow into the enclosure keeps dusty air from getting close to hot components,” Humburg said.
DSH’s system is directed towards the exhaust system.
“You can’t prevent fires caused by hot bearings or electrical problems,” he said. “I always advise growers to be aware of the potential for fires from these sources.” [Sue Roesler, “Humburg Develops Combine Kits to Prevent Sunflower Harvest Fires,” Farm & Ranch Guide].
Many satisfied customers report fewer fires after installing Humburg’s thingamajig. The FireStop kit is priced at $6,250. A new combine can cost over $500,000.