This diagram of the ethanol process notes that the Cellerate use of corn kernel fiber is just an addon to an existing dry mill plant where the ethanol is made and goes right back into the final stream where it is sent to market

This diagram of the ethanol process notes that the Cellerate use of corn kernel fiber is just an add-on to an existing dry mill plant, where the ethanol is made and goes right back into the final stream where it is sent to market.

New tech makes more ethanol from corn kernels

Company perfects a system that captures fiber from the corn kernel to make more ethanol.

New types of corn hybrids, as noted in this story, "Optimized ethanol genetics," have been optimized for ethanol production, and Syngenta has a big stake with its Enogen hybrids. Jack Bernens, head of mar­keting and stakeholder relations for Enogen, adds that there’s another technology the company has begun marketing in a new relationship with Quad County Corn Processors.

“We consider Cellerate as the next step in utilizing Eno­gen corn and ethanol production,” Bernens says. “This is the first commercial process to produce cellulosic from corn kernel fiber.” The corn kernel has about 8% fiber, and the process developed at QCCP takes that fiber out of the corn as it leaves the ethanol-making process but before it ends up as dried distillers grains. “We want to take that fiber and turn it into ethanol; that’s what the Cellerate process is all about.”

Work started on the concept in 2009 at QCCP, where Travis Brotherson came up with the idea he first called Adding Cellulosic Ethanol, or ACE. In 2014, Syngenta signed an agreement to license the process and become marketers.

“This is the first process in the U.S., and perhaps in the world, using corn kernel fiber,” Bernens says. “And the name was changed from ACE to Cellerate in September.”

Market access

QCCP received EPA D3 Renewable Identification Numbers for cellulosic ethanol production using the process. This rec­ognizes the ethanol from this process as coming from cellu­lose, not just from corn as traditional RINs denote. That’s big news as the industry works harder to bring more fiber-based ethanol sources on line.

Three commercial-level cellulosic ethanol plants are on line in the U.S., but they use plant fibers, like corn stover, to produce ethanol. With the Cellerate process, any ethanol plant can also produce ethanol from cellulose using the very corn they buy to make ethanol in the first place.

“This is a bolt-on process to make the cellulosic ethanol in the same plant where traditional ethanol is made,” says Bernens. “You’re just adding a second fermentation where the Cellerate whole stillage is pretreated, distilled and goes back into the molecular sieve and comes out as ethanol.”

Bernens says by removing the fiber from the kernel be­fore it becomes DDGs, the resulting feed product is closer to soybean meal in protein content. “Today, if all of the ethanol plants in the country were to bolt on this technology, they could produce 2 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol, which would go toward meeting the goals of the EPA.”

The process is also increasing the amount of corn oil the plant can extract from a bushel of corn.

There’s an old saying in meat processing about getting val­ue out of everything but the “oink.” With the Cellerate pro­cess, Syngenta is working on a similar approach that allows the ethanol plant to get everything out of that kernel of corn, adding income to boost an ethanol plant’s financial health. With growers already getting a premium for growing Enogen corn, value is added on each end of the production chain.

To learn more, visit syngenta-us.com.

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