Hey, Let's Chow Down On Some Tasty Cotton

A MOUTHFUL OF COTTON-- for real, not just an annoying morning-after sensation. That's the goal of Roghu S. Narayan, chairman of the Chemical Engineering Dept. at Texas Tech University. With fabrics using increasing amounts of synthetic fibers, Narayan wants to help Texas farmers find new markets for their cotton crops--by grinding cottonseed into a flour or a coarse meal that's fit for consumption by people as well as livestock.

Trouble is, cotton plants naturally produce a nasty insecticide called gossypol. While it's not a lethal chemical, it will make people and animals sick. So Narayan is perfecting a better and more cost-effective method for removing the gossypol, based on the technology used to decaffeinate coffee: so-called supercritical fluid extraction. Narayan has tailored that process to use propane and carbon dioxide for sucking the gossypol out of cottonseed. Why propane? Well, West Texas also has propane in abundance, so Narayan is killing two birds with one stone.

More important, Narayan says that using propane promises to be significantly cheaper than the current technique, which uses a hexane solvent. Because hexane is itself slightly toxic, meal made from cottonseed these days can be used only as livestock feed.

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