“Fargo is collaborative, not competitive.”
It’s something I hear often. Two Fargo-based companies, Appareo Systems and c2renew, are illustrating that characteristic of our community through a partnership they’ve had for nearly two years. Appareo has designed an acoustic-based monitoring system called the Wireless Blockage Flow Monitor, and they’re using c2renew’s expertise in creating biocomposites to make their product more eco-friendly.
Appareo Systems and c2renew: combining expertise
“Appareo has a pretty solid understanding of the injecting molding process, and the different design capabilities,” said Peder Nystuen, Product Manager for Appareo Systems. “But understanding the materials themselves is a science unto itself.”
It’s a science that Chad Ulven, co-founder of c2renew and professor of Mechanical Engineering at North Dakota State University, has been studying for over 8 years. He and Corey Kratcha, c2renew co-founder, created c2renew for that purpose: to create custom formulated biocomposite alternatives to petroleum based plastic.
They sought out Appareo Systems to see how their biocomposites could be used in their systems.
“C2renew knew we worked in the ag industy and used a lot of plastics, and came to us with their idea of using biocomposites,” Nystuen said. “Now we’re using it [biocomposites] as fill in plastics to provide strength and support. To make plastic greener, with renewable material.”
“The value is that it’s an ag based product,” said Kratcha. “We’re using ag waste and ag residuals in the bio composites. And it’s two North Dakota companies working together, to have material developed for a product, both developed in North Dakota.”
The Wireless Blockage Flow Monitor
If you’re wondering, as I was, what the heck a Wireless Blockage Flow Monitor (WBMF) is, here’s a brief description: In order to mechanically sow seeds, farmers use what’s called a seeder. What the WBMF is comprised of, is 10 – 100 sensors all along a 1-inch air seeder, which connect to a controller module. On the module is a series of microphones that read the sound power of the grain or fertilizer hitting the sensor. This is then broadcast via WiFi to an ipad in the tractor cab, and processed through an app that shows the farmer how their system is doing. Naturally, if the grain gets stuck and causes a blockage, the farmer can see that right away.
“It’s a huge system, from iOS software on an ipod to software on the module, all the way down to the mechanics of the sound sensors,” said Nystuen, after giving me (a very non-farmer) a thorough explanation.
Where c2renew comes in, is in the production of the sensors. Appareo knew they wanted to use “green plastic” (biodegradable plastic alternatives) for the backbone of the sensor. They also knew that they preferred to work with a local startup. c2renew fit the bill.
“You wind up with a significantly more renewable product,” Nystuen said.
The WBMF product is sold through Intelligent Ag Solutions, a company joint venture between Appareo and AGCO. IAS also sells an active depth controller, which monitors digging depth of a harvester.
Baby Steps: minimizing the carbon footprint
Integrating biodegradable plastic alternatives into products like this is something the c2renew founders hope to see more and more. Corey Kratcha, when talking about the potential for these plastics, pointed to my phone as an example.
“If you look at your cell phone sitting on the table,” he said. “Half of it is made up of a circuit board. If we can create bio-based circuit boards and then create everything else that goes with it, you can at some point throw your phone into the compost bin and just let it break down, instead of having to take it to Best Buy and add even more of a carbon footprint.”
(C2renew is also creating a biodegradable sensor, and a coffee cup made from coffee!)
In the future, Appareo hopes to continue transitioning to use more biodegradable materials, Nystuen said.
“Over the next year or so, we’re looking to try to incorporate c2renew’s materials into those existing products and continue to integrate them into future products,” he said.
Photos courtesy of Appareo Systems, c2renew, and Intelligent Ag Solutions.