As you have heard many times over the past couple of years, ethanol fuel is lessening our dependence on foreign oil and providing a clean-burning, renewable energy source for American consumers. Ethanol is made from corn, a farm commodity which farmers from Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties just harvested over 400,000 acres and produced more than 60 million bushels. From these 60 million bushels, nearly 180 million gallons of ethanol can be produced.

Let’s look at ethanol production in more detail. Is the entire kernel of corn being used to make ethanol? The answer is no. There is even more value to a kernel of corn once the ethanol is “squeezed” out of the kernel.

First, let’s look at the make-up of a kernel. A kernel of corn is basically wrapped in a tough, fibrous outer hull (bran). Inside is the germ or embryo (oil) from which the new plant develops. Around the germ is a food supply called the endosperm (starch). When the kernel germinates it draws its nourishment from the endosperm until it can put out roots and leaves and obtain its food from the soil and the air.

The endosperm (starch) is the part of the kernel used to make ethanol. If you carefully crack a kernel of corn it will look white inside which is the starch. As you will see a majority of the kernel is starch. In fact, starch is around two-thirds of the weight of a kernel of corn.

There is more good news to a kernel of corn than just the starch. Each bushel of corn (56 pounds) also has 18 pounds of DDGs. What are DDGs? When ethanol plants make ethanol, they use only the starch from corn. The remaining nutrients (protein, fiber and oil) are from the hull and germ and are the co-products used to create livestock feed called Distillers Dried Grains (DDGs). So not only are ethanol plants making ethanol, they are also producing a valuable feed for livestock.

Not to confuse the issue any more, but there are two main types of ethanol facilities: dry mills and wet mills. Approximately 60 percent of the ethanol plants in the U.S. are dry mills and 40 percent are wet mills. Both types exist in the Peoria area, but the new ones being built throughout the U.S. are dry mills. The dry mills produce the DDGs, and the wet mills produce another livestock feed called gluten. Obviously, both types of ethanol plants produce a co-product used in livestock feed.

DDGs produced in the Peoria area have several destinations. The products are loaded onto Illinois River barges and shipped to overseas livestock markets. They are also loaded onto rail cars and sent to livestock feedlots to the south. Local dairy and beef farmers are picking up the product directly at the ethanol plants and bringing it back to the farm to feed their animals.

Not only are we reaping a clean-burning, renewable product from our locally grown corn, but ethanol plants are also producing quality feed for livestock. The miracle crop that’s a big boost to our local economy…corn! IBI