Ethanol Blog

Nebraska Firm Develops UAS Applications for Ethanol Industry

Cheryl Anderson
By  Cheryl Anderson , DTN Staff Reporter

With the continuing development of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), the ethanol industry is jumping on the bandwagon and finding a number of applications useful, according to an article by Ethanol Producer (…).

A Nebraska-based engineering firm, Olsson Associates, has integrated UAS into its operations. The company offers ethanol plants aerial spectral work with visible spectrum and thermal infrared cameras which can provide images of structural problems on vertical structures that are difficult to access with ladders or scaffolding, such as stacks, pipe racks or pipelines. The images from the UAS can be streamed in real-time to as many as 10 plant employees on the ground, who can help guide the UAS operator with what areas to inspect.

The images produced by the UAS are of much higher resolution than those taken from manned aircrafts, and help plant operators inspect structures in greater detail. Olsson Associates also can use UAS to calculate the volume of aggregate piles of gravel, distillers grains or open grain bins.

Other uses for UAS include inspecting manhole covers on loaded ethanol train cars, or providing live video in emergency situations such as fires where access is difficult.

Jonathan Harris, UAS program manager for Olsson Associates, said he believes all ethanol companies will someday have their own UAS on site. Predictions by the Federal Aviation Administration peg sales of UAS for commercial purposes will jump from just 600,000 in the past year to 2.7 million by 2020.

Cheryl Anderson can be reached at



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