Distillers grains' hidden reserves

From corn to ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic biofuel, zein, high-protein feed and who knows, the kitchen sink? Maybe one day we'll find our own universe locked in a kernel of corn.
By Ron Kotrba | June 30, 2011

At the Fuel Ethanol Workshop in Indy this week I sat in on an interesting set of presentations by two University of Minnesota researchers, Pavel Krasutsky and Doug Tifanny, both of whom are working on a project in collaboration with Crown Iron Works and Glycos Biotechnologies to take distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS)—basically corn minus the starch left over from ethanol production—and employ ethanol, as Tiffany says, as a solvent, reagent and preservative.

The idea is to use ethanol in a solvent extraction process to separate out the fiber, protein, oil, FFAs and zein to make a high-protein feed, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel (and glycerin, which, in turn, with the help of GlycosBio, is converted over to ethanol).

Making biodiesel from corn oil extracted from ethanol is not a new concept for sure, but this approach, using ethanol as a solvent to isolate the various fractions resident in DDGS, in addition to using the fiber component and glycerin to make cellulosic ethanol, is a pretty unique concept.

Tifanny says a 55 MMgy ethanol plant can pump out an additional 5 MMgy of cellulosic ethanol and 5 MMgy of biodiesel, in addition to zein (which he says sells for about 40 cents a pound, it is a low molecular weight protein of corn) and a high-protein feed product.

Crown Iron Works is working to reduce capital costs of such a project and improve the process. Tifanny says feeding trials for the high-protein feed product need to occur, as well as a reduction in capital costs, which at this point run about $40 million in an average sized ethanol plant.

Stay tuned to biodieselmagazine.com and biorefiningmagazine.com for more information on this integrated biorefinery approach from the University of Minnesota.

I’ll be covering more corn oil to biodiesel sessions today, including one that I moderate this afternoon, so I’ll be sure to relay any noteworthy information to our biodiesel readers.