"I’ve been writing about ethanol, and therefore corn oil, for more than three years now. That means I started writing about it when only a few plants had the technology installed.
By Holly Jessen | March 25, 2013
Now, I’m just finishing up a story about the growth of corn oil extraction in the ethanol industry. Essentially, we’re past the tipping point—the majority of ethanol producers now have the technology already in place. The full story will appear in the May issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
There were a couple of interesting details that I thought were worth highlighting. Dave Elsenbast, vice president of supply chain for biodiesel Renewable Energy Group Inc., mentioned the expansion of ethanol feedstocks such as sorghum and wheat, due to the drought and high price of corn. With increasing amounts of corn oil being used as a biodiesel feedstock, the biodiesel industry is keeping an eye on that. “I think that it’s important to note that if there is any oil generated from those crops, they currently don’t have an EPA approved pathway (for biodiesel production) for those two particular oils,” Elsenbast says.
Elsenbast said he doesn’t know, at this time, whether there would be any issues with wheat or sorghum oil as a biodiesel feedstock. “I wouldn’t anticipate issues with converting it,” he said, adding that the critical thing is the EPA approved pathway. If the ethanol industry is in fact going to be generating oil from wheat or sorghum or even corn oil mixed with sorghum and/or wheat oil, a new pathway will have to be approved in order for the biodiesel industry to be able to utilize it as an approved feedstock.
Some other things that caught my attention came out during my interview with Rob Musser, director of technical sales and marketing for Nutriquest. He talked about the need for more research on the effect of corn oil extraction on distillers grains. Although multiple research studies have been done or are in the works at multiple universities, Musser had some specific ideas on what research that hasn’t, so far, happened. One was on the different methods of removing corn oil—what impact does it have on the distillers grains if corn oil is removed via a centrifuge versus other methods? What about surfactants? What does their use mean for the end product? He’d also like to see an apples to apples comparison of high- and low-corn oil distillers grains. In other words, many studies are comparing low-corn oil distillers grains from one plant to high-corn oil distillers grains produced at a different plant. Comparing the coproducts produced at the same plant, before and after corn oil extraction was installed, would produce more reliable data.
Corn oil extraction has expanded rapidly over the last two years, providing ethanol producers with a valuable revenue stream in times of tight margins. Sure, there’s been some growing pains as the distillers grains market adjusts to a new, lower oil product. But lower corn oil content is actually good news for some animal industries, such as dairy. And, just because an ethanol producer can extract a maximum amount of corn oil with process improvements, doesn’t mean that producer will—depending on the markets it sells its distillers grains into. For more information about that, you’ll just have to read my story in the May issue of EPM."