The BAE Research Shop Helps Bring Ideas to Life

Written by Olivia Rogers 

After months of testing and tweaking, the Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) Research Shop is making the final adjustments to a hemp decorticator. The research shop team is working on this project for the alternative crops Extension program in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at North Carolina State University. David Suchoff, alternative crops extension specialist and assistant professor in Crop and Soil Sciences, has been leading this collaboration with the research shop since June, 2023.

This partnership began when Suchoff contacted the research shop about working on a hemp decorticator that the extension team purchased from China. Suchoff explains that in the past, his research team used a smaller version that BAE also worked on. However, Suchoff wanted a larger model that could keep up with the growing needs of the team’s research. Suchoff says, “The goal of this machine is to process all of our fiber hemp in the field in order to understand more about bast yield quality.”

The decorticator is useful for their research because it separates the different parts of a hemp stem. In order to use fiber hemp in different textiles, the core must be separated from the outer bast fibers. Once the research team processes the bast, it can be used in textiles. Suchoff has been collaborating with faculty at NC State’s Wilson College of Textiles to test the quality of the collected hemp fibers.  

Hemp stems before the separation process.

 

Blalock starting work on the machine.

Inside the BAE Research Shop, Joseph Blalock has been leading the project. He is a fabricator, and he is currently interim research shop supervisor. Blalock has been working with Suchoff’s team to make the changes required for their research. 

When the decorticator arrived, it needed hydraulics, a motor and proper safety installations. Blalock says, “We didn’t have any instructions for it and there were no blueprints.”

Blalock explains that the unique part of this machine is its portability. Suchoff says that farmers and researchers who come to field days want to know more about processing. The portability of this decorticator allows them to bring the machine on-site. To make this work, the shop team replaced the electric motor with a diesel motor and moved the machine on to a trailer. Suchoff says this decorticator is probably the only one of its kind in the United States.

A graduate student running the stems through the rollers. 

The shop team spent a lot of time planning the design, and they met with Suchoff’s team to share design ideas. Blalock explains that the project involved many hands. Several students helped with the fabrication process. Blalock says, “It quickly became a departmental effort, and we all fed off each other’s ideas.”

Blalock says this collaboration is special because BAE brought the research team’s ideas to fruition. He says it was a very demanding task, so “the fact that we were able to make it happen was a big deal.” Suchoff says this collaboration is important because the research shop understands researchers’ needs. He explains that Blalock’s team “understands that safety is critical.” 

The separated bast.

Blalock says this collaboration “pushed us to see what we could come up with and really helped show what our department is capable of.” Both teams are currently working to add the final touches to the decorticator, and then it will be used in collaboration with other departments at NC State. 

 

The team performing a test run.