Volume 7, Issue 3
Published: April 29, 2013
Hitting the sweet spot

Around 40% of ethanol plants were extracting corn oil in 2011 – this has now risen to as high as 75%. Phil Thane looks at the bitter battles between rivals, the differences between the technologies and, importantly, the economics


Almost all manufacturing processes produce wastes and manufacturers are always looking for ways to increase profits by packaging waste as a byproduct that can be sold. For as long as ethanol has been distilled from grain, distillers have sold the spent grain as animal feed. Distillers Dried Grains with Solubles (DDGS) consists of the solid residue together with the dried stillage, the watery liquid and suspended solids remaining after distillation. Where the material is destined for a local animal feed plant it is sometimes shipped as wet distillers grains. This reduces production costs, but is more expensive to transport and will spoil more quickly.

According to separation experts Valicor DDGS, a typical dry mill corn ethanol facility contains approximately 11-12% by weight of corn oil. A 100 million gallon a year (mgy) ethanol facility typically has over 10 million gallons of corn oil contained within its DDGS product. Corn oil is valuable both as a feedstock for biodiesel production and for the chemical industry.

Most of that oil is released from the corn’s germ during the milling, cooking and fermentation and is found in the stillage. A small part of the total will be free and will float to the top of the stillage where it can be skimmed off. A larger part of the oil is emulsified into the watery stillage, aided by the various other chemicals present which act as emulsifying agents. Breaking that emulsion economically, is the key to making a profit from corn oil extraction.

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