Nebraska’s ethanol industry could see a tremendous boost from a promising product being developed using leftovers from the ethanol-making process.
Researcher Hans Van Leeuwen is leading a team that’s converting ethanol by-products into a food-grade fungus.
“It’s turned out to be an excellent feed for poultry and it is also suitable for pigs,” Van Leeuwen says. “We have conducted some extensive pig feeding trials and we are in the process of doing some more.”
Van Leeuwen says the feed, called MycoMeal, could add hundreds of millions of dollars in value to the ethanol industry. Nebraska is the nation’s number-two ethanol producer.
MycoMeal is being produced at a pilot plant in central Iowa. Van Leeuwen is a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at Iowa State University.
Much of the stillage leftover from ethanol production is already turned into distillers dried grains that are sold as feed for cattle. Adding fungus to the remaining liquid from the stillage produces the MycoMeal.
“This particular fungal material has a very high protein content and more importantly, some specific essential amino acids that cannot be synthesized by the pigs,” Van Leeuwen says.
The researchers are still studying how MycoMeal effects tissue growth and intestinal health in pigs, but Van Leeuwen says it could replace other forms of food for animals.
“It’s equivalent, more or less, to soy meal, which is more valuable that distillers dried grain. It could also possibly substitute for fish meal, which is even more expensive,” Van Leeuwen says. “Fish meal sells for about $1,500 a ton, so if we can achieve substitution of all or part of the fish meal, that would certainly go a long way in making the ethanol plants more profitable.”
Van Leeuwen believes MycoMeal could eventually prove beneficial to more than just ethanol, pig and poultry producers.
“When you think that millions of people die annually as a result of malnutrition in underdeveloped countries, particularly in tropical Africa, there’s a possibility of supplementing the diets of these people with this high protein, high essential amino acid MycoMeal,” Van Leeuwen said.
The production technology could save United States ethanol producers up to $800 million a year in energy costs, according to Van Leeuwen. He also said the technology can produce ethanol co-products worth another $800 million or more per year, depending on how it is used and marketed.
The fungi-production process has two patents pending.
Nebraska has 24 plants operating with a capacity of more than 2-billion gallons a year and consuming 700-million bushels of corn. Ethanol is responsible for about 1,200 jobs in Nebraska