North Dakota is a major wheat-producing state in the United States. North Dakota’s wheat crop is about 362 million bushels annually, and more than 23 million bushels of spring and durum wheat are milled every year.
Accordingly, North Dakota is producing 3.34 million bushels of wheat bran per year. Of this, three million bushels are waste. A wheat kernel generally contains 14.5% bran. A miller either sells 90% of this bran at an extremely low price or disposes of it as waste, which has the potential to cause environmental hazards, to save the transportation cost.
A strong wheat industry is very important to the viability of North Dakota. Thus, alternative uses for the wheat, for example using the wheat bran as an industrial resource, are urgently needed to sustain the productivity of wheat and the profitability of wheat for farmers, augmenting the rural economy of North Dakota.
Researchers at Mayville State University have been working to identify possible alternative uses for wheat bran, which could have a positive impact on the quality of the wheat farmer’s life, as well as society. Dr. Khwaja Hossain, professor and project leader, along with Dr. Atikur Rahman, a Mayville State research associate, conducted their research with assistance from Mayville State undergraduate students. Dr. Chad Ulven, an associate professor from North Dakota State University is a collaborator on this project, which was supported by NSF-ND-EPSCoR.
Through their research work, the team determined that the thermoplastic they prepared with bran composite has industrial uses. The wheat bran was determined as an appropriate reinforcement in the polymers and could trade between $100 and $200 per ton. It would most efficiently be processed and densified into bio-composite pellets located in rural areas prior to being transported to the end molder. They are continuing to analyze the biodegradability of the prepared thermoplastic.
Wheat bran has cellulosic fiber compounds, along with starch, protein, and a little amount of fat. Like all the plant material that shows mechanical strength properties having cellulose in them, the high percentage of water-insoluble fiber constituted by cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin in wheat bran also offers the advantages of mechanical strengths.
Wheat bran has the potential to be an effective and economical reinforcing material because of its low density, non-abrasive nature, availability, low cost, and renewability. The Mayville State research team determined that wheat bran is an important and very cheap agricultural by-product.
The team’s research work included:
- Studying wheat bran lignocellulosic fiber composition of wheat cultivars of different classes grown all over the U.S., identifying wheat cultivars with suitable lignocellulosic composition, and finding that wheat bran could be used as a reinforcing industrial material, and its efficiency could be enhanced by pretreatment of bran fiber;
- Analyzing six different non-toxic bran fiber treatment methods and identifying suitable methods;
- Compounding the treated wheat bran in a twin-screw extruder and molding it by injecting it in a molder with a popular thermoplastic matrix, polypropylene;
- Preparing a thermoplastic with bran composite as high as 30%;
- Determining that the mechanical and physical properties of the prepared thermoplastic are comparable to synthetic plastic.