I got back to Brainerd on Thursday evening after checking out of my dorm room at precisely 1:15 PM. I got off lucky by having my last finals on Wednesday and being able to avoid the inevitable move-out madness on Friday by leaving on Thursday. I’ll certainly miss Grand Forks; I’ve enjoyed living there for roughly the last nine months. It’s going to be fun to come back in August, or sooner, if I go up there for any reason during the summer, and see the progress made on some major construction projects currently taking place.
Two posts ago, I mentioned that I went on two tours as a part of the “Introduction to Chemical Engineering” class I was in. I wanted to talk about them for a bit. The first tour involved heading to the J.R. Simplot potato processing plant in the northern part of Grand Forks. I had a real fun time at this tour and basically got to see every single step involved in taking fresh potatoes and turning them into French fries. The full tour involved witnessing:
- Semi trucks unloading potatoes into large storage rooms/tanks
- The potatoes from storage being placed onto conveyer belts to be washed
- The potatoes being washed
- The potatoes being peeled
- The peeled potatoes being sliced into crinkle-cut fries
- The sliced potatoes getting fried
- The fried potatoes cooling down and being packaged
- The packaged potatoes being placed into the freezer
- The frozen potatoes being loaded into railcars and semi trucks
The Grand Forks plant will also occasionally use its two lower-capacity fryers to make hash browns, tater tots, and other potato products. Like I mentioned in the previous post, the plant was making some sort of hash browns for sale in Japan earlier on the day I visited. I didn’t get to see the actual hash browns, just a leftover roll of the plastic bags that the finished product was being placed into.
Another interesting aspect of the plant was seeing what happened to the “waste” products of the fry making process. It turns out that Simplot has been rather successful in finely grinding up the peeled potato skins and selling it to pet food companies to sell as dry, “special diet” food for cats and dogs. Also, the mushy scraps of potato left behind from the slicing process can be sold as a cattle feed.
Meanwhile, two days after visiting the potato factory, I went over to the EERC, the Energy and Environmental Research Center. The center has a pretty interesting history, but basically it’s a research & development firm that is technically a part of the UND campus. The whole center is almost completely autonomous – operating essentially as a private firm – and is only connected to UND, as far as I can tell, so as associate itself with a respectable university.
What happens at the EERC is that companies will come to it needing people to do some R&D to develop or redesign a product, process, etc. The EERC then draws up a contract with the company to agree on payment and has its researchers and scientists go to work doing whatever needs to be done. As the name would suggest, energy research is primarily what the center is concerned with. In particular, there has been an emphasis in the last few years in researching and designing alternatives to fossil fuels like fuel cells and hydrogen power. Looking at the EERC’s website, I see that 405 contracts totaling over $100 million were worked on last year. 83% of the contracts came from private businesses from all over the world – since 1987, the EERC has worked with more than 875 clients in 47 countries and all 50 states. One of the most newsworthy projects the EERC is working on is redesigning the heat shields that failed on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.
Since the tour of the EERC had to be completed within the regular 50 minute class period, there wasn’t much time to look around the center’s many labs. Nevertheless, I got to see a few small-scale goal gasifiers, which basically consist of a wide array of furnaces and pipes that turn coal into natural gas.
So, all that happened during the last week of April. During the first week of May, meanwhile, there were a few other things that happened that I was planning to talk about. Since it was the last week of classes before finals, I got a few parting gifts from a couple of my professors. The first gift was from my chemistry professor, who decided to celebrate successfully teaching her first undergraduate class by giving everybody traditional Chinese paper cutouts from her homeland. Everybody’s cutout was unique; the one I selected contains a mouse with a cluster of grapes:
(A picture will be forthcoming; I still have to unpack everything)
I received other gifts from my German professor. Namely, he gave me and one other student in German II a scholarship worth $750 for the next school year. Additionally, since I had the highest grade in the class before the final, I received a DVD copy of the award-wining German film Rosenstraße. And, as if that weren’t enough, I was one of the six students who received a voucher that pays for all necessary German III textbooks for the next school year.