Exploiting waste heat from combine harvesters to damage harvested weed seeds and reduce weed infestation
Weeds are mainly controlled with herbicides in intensive crop production, but this has resulted in increasing problems with herbicide-resistant weeds and public concerns about the unwanted side-effects of herbicide use. Therefore, there is a need for new alternative methods to reduce weed problems. One way to reduce weed infestation could be to collect or kill weed seeds produced in the growing season. Crop and weeds are harvested simultaneously with the combine harvester, but most of the weed seeds are returned with the chaff to the field creating new problems in future growing seasons. During the harvesting process, the harvester produces heat. Under normal harvest conditions, the exhaust gas temperature measured directly behind the turbocharger of the engine of a combine harvester may reach between 400 °C and 480 °C depending of the size of the engine. These high temperatures indicate that there is a potential for developing a system which perhaps could be utilized to kill or damage the weeds seeds. We investigate how much heat is needed to damage weed seeds significantly and focuses on the germination patterns over time in response to these treatments. We investigated if heat treatment of weed seeds could kill the seeds or reduce seed vigour or kill the seeds before they are returned to the field. The aim is to avoid harvested viable weed seeds being added to the soil seed bank. During the threshing and cleaning process in the combine harvester, most weed seeds and chaff are separated from the crop grains. After this separation, we imagine that the weed seeds could be exposed to a high temperature before they are returned to the field. Seeds of nine common weed species were treated with temperatures of 50 °C, 100 °C, 150 °C, 200 °C, and 250 °C for 0, 2, 5, 10, and 20 s, respectively. Afterwards, the seeds were germinated for fourteen days. Seeds were differently affected by the heat treatments. We found that 50 °C and 100 °C was insufficient to harm the seeds of all species significantly at all durations. Heating with a temperature of 50 °C and 100 °C showed a slight tendency to break the dormancy of Alopecurus myosuroides Huds. and Papaver rhoeas L., but the results were not statistically significant. Seeds treated with 150 °C gave varying results depending on the duration and the weed species. The germination of A. myosuroides was significantly repressed when seeds were exposed to 250 °C for 5 s. Most species were significantly damaged when they were exposed to 250 °C for more than 10 s. Our results showed that there is a potential to explore how the waste heat energy produced by combine harvesters can be exploited to either kill or reduce the vigour of weed seeds before they are returned to the field with the chaff.