The U.S. ethanol industry is a marvel of efficiency that often works under the radar. The industry has fallen on hard times, thanks to the pandemic and other market factors, but plant managers keep working on ways to be more efficient. And now there’s news that Novozymes, a leading provider of enzymatic and biological technologies, has a new tool to advance that work.
“Coproducts are an increasingly important part of the ethanol industry,” notes Brian Brazeau, vice president, agriculture and industrial biosolutions for Novozymes. “We’re helping improve that part of the business.”
Brazeau is referring to Fortiva Hemi. The new enzyme, when added into the ethanol production process, can help plants boost their output of corn oil and push up ethanol yield per bushel. That corn oil is an income source for an ethanol plant, providing more cash for every bushel brought in for processing.
Farmers may remember the days when 2.5 gallons of ethanol per bushel of corn was a magic number, and the only coproduct of dried distillers grain with solubles was an afterthought. Today’s most efficient plants are nearing 3 gallons of ethanol per bushel, while also extracting oil and marketing DDGS specific to their nutritional characteristics.
“Fortiva Hemi is an enzyme that can be dropped into the existing [ethanol production] process without any additional equipment, meaning a greater return on your invested steel,” Brazeau says. “I think one of the most interesting things that have happened over the past few years at various ethanol plants is people have really optimized their own processes for doing what is most important to their business focus going forward, which can be beyond ethanol. “
Oil as an income stream
Corn oil is being extracted at most plants today and is actually the highest value output by weight in an ethanol plant. However, Brazeau says ethanol plants, until now, have only been able to achieve to 40% to 50% efficiency in extracting available corn oil, while those same plants hit over 95% efficiency in converting starch to ethanol.
Fortiva Hemi works on the corn fiber matrix during liquefaction, creating the potential for improved fat and starch conversion that leads to oil and ethanol yield previously inaccessible. Liquefaction is a critical step in the ethanol fuel production process, between grinding and fermentation. In that step, mash from corn or other starches is cooked into a slurry substance and biological conversion begins. During liquefaction, the enzymes that make up Fortiva Hemi get to work making a corn oil boost possible.
“Depending on the plant and its processes, we’ve seen the enzyme nearly double oil output,” Brazeau says. “We’ve had customers that have tried these enzymes, and they’ve had trouble storing the oil they’ve generated.”
For farmers, it’s good news that the local ethanol plant can aim for more profit with a switch in enzymes. The pressure the industry has been under in the last four or five years, came to a head during the pandemic. The opportunity to push up profit potential from the same bushel of corn is welcome news for the long-term viability of the ethanol industry.
Brazeau says the process doesn’t alter the DDGS at all; it just helps pull more of the available oil out of that corn during that liquefaction phase. For more information, visit novozymes.com.