Machine controls weeds with steam

Proponents say herbicide resistance and attacks on glyphosate make it a good time to look for alternative weed control

REGINA — Steam power is returning to prairie fields, but this time as a weed control option that may disrupt conventional broad-acre weed management.

“The X-Steam-inator is 100 percent steam, there is no chemical whatsoever in it,” said Ron Gleim, founder of X-Steam-inator.

“It’s all electric, there are no boilers, there are no flames, there is no pressure in there at all. It’s steam on demand.”

The system uses a power take-off powered generator that supplies electricity to induction heaters, which creates steam of 200 C.

“There is about 270 weeds that are immune to chemicals today. This will kill all those, plus any other weed it touches,” Gleim said at Canada’s Farm Progress Show in Regina.

The company displayed a prototype steam sprayer that was built to prove the concept works, and further prototypes are being constructed.

The temperature and stream flow of the X-Steam-inator is controlled by a tablet in the tractor cab, and its boom has ceramic insulation that makes it safe to touch even while in operation.

“We have a reverse osmosis system in there so you can basically use any kind of water you want, within reason, and you should have no scale built up in the sprayer,” said the Chaplin, Sask., inventor.

Kevin Hursh, communication co-ordinator for X-Steam-inator, said there is no magic under the hood in the machine because it uses a combination of existing technologies to produce steam.

“The patent is for the combination of the technologies to get there,” said Hursh, who is also a Western Producer columnist.

“With glyphosate under attack and with herbicide resistant weeds, I think the time is right where people are willing to look at other alternatives.”

It’s unlikely the X-Steam-inator will be able to keep up to the productivity of high clearance sprayers, but the system will have some productivity advantages.

For instance, the machine only requires two gallons of water per acre and can operate day or night.

“You won’t be running for water as often. If you’re doing a burn-off operation and it froze the night before, you don’t have to wait for the plants to recover to spray them with the X-Steam-inator, and you can spray them at night and you don’t have to worry about uptake of the chemical,” Hursh said.

The X-Steam-inator system still needs to be tested to determine its productivity, said Gleim..

“When we designed it, we were hoping we could do 80 acres per hour, minimum. We’re still there. If we get it on our high clearance sprayer, which we could have out within two years, at 100 feet at five miles per hour will still do over 100 acres per hour,” he said.

Hursh said there may also be a potential to mount a system on a drill to achieve a spring burn down while planting.

“As you add more power you’ll be able to go wider for this machine but you’re going to be limited in the speed you travel. It’s going to take time to heat that vegetation up to kill it. So it will be limited to something in the five m.p.h. range, and that is ideal for the speed of a drill,” Hursh said.

The power requirements for the induction system is considerable.

The prototype displayed during Farm Progress has an 86 kilowatt generator, but if the system is to be expanded up to 100 feet, it will need a 300 kw generator to travel at five m.p.h., which will require a tractor with 450 to 500 horsepower.

“We’re going to have the 60-footers out probably within the next year. We will use them for demonstration first, then we will probably have them in the marketplace within 18 months, then we’re going to the 100 foot,” Gleim said.

He said the company is exploring booms capable of between the row vegetation control, which could have a place with corn and beans in the United States.

Hursh said an obvious fit would be with organic farms because it will reduce the amount of tillage needed to control weeds.

He said when small annual weeds are steamed off he’s confident they will not come back, but perennial weeds such as Canada thistle and quack grass will likely grow back.

“But how quickly will it come back? For instance, in a fallow year if you’ve got a Canada thistle issue, if you go and apply exterminator every time the Canada thistle starts to green up how much control of that perennial weed will you have accomplished in the fallow year, and will it be better than tillage? I believe it probably will be, but we have to prove those things,” Hursh said.

He said the company plans to use the X-Steam-inator for crop desiccation.

“If you can adjust your application method of delivery and also strictly control the temperature you might be able to accomplish desiccation of crops, where you can apply enough heat that you can kill the crop without affecting (the) quality of the seed. But that’s further down the line,” Hursh said.

Gleim said the cost of the X-Steam-inator will be comparable to sprayers, with a 100-foot pull-type costing $200,000 to $275,000, and the self-propelled type costing $400,000 to $600,000.

“A 5,000-acre farmer that uses it for pre-burnoff will save $50,000 (of chemical costs) in the spring,” Gleim said.

“If you have 5,000 acres, this thing will pay for itself in three or four years.”

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