Expanding Fractionation Horizons from Food to Fuel

Cereal Process Technologies LLC hasn't just tested its fractionation technology—it's an everyday reality at three corn processing plants producing food-grade or industrial products. Now, the company is making headway in its quest to bring its brand of fractionation technology to the ethanol industry.
By Holly Jessen | October 02, 2006
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Jim Giguere's exploration of dry fractionation technology for corn began more than 40 years ago. In 1963, he noticed that a particular piece of corn-milling machinery was breaking up corn kernels and leaving the germ intact, which wasn't typical for that piece of equipment, he later tells EPM. So he set out to research the hows and whys behind it.

By 1980, his fractionation process was in use, with the final patents secured by 1994, according to Bob Giguere, Jim's son and technology director for Cereal Process Technologies LLC (CPT). Now, the elder Giguere's decades of labor are the basis for CPT, which was formed to bring his method of fractionation to the ethanol industry. Though the 81-year-old considers himself retired, he's still hard at work; among other things, he's designing more efficient machinery to streamline the process. "This is something you are always working on, trying to enhance or adjust it," he told EPM in a telephone interview from his Colorado home.

The goal of CPT is to build turnkey fractionation plants for ethanol facilities, says the younger Giguere, who serves on the CPT board of directors with his father. The company is interested in working with either new facilities under construction or retrofits. "Our process is quite flexible," he says. "We can make it the exact size and design to fit in almost any circumstance."

Bob Giguere and Steve Rosen, CPT sales engineer, are the company's main employees. Giguere works out of a corn processing plant in Glidden, Iowa, which is part-owned by his family, while Rosen works out of the main CPT office in Bridgeton, Mo. Beyond that, the company also works with several contracted employees and has a partnership with Younglove Construction LLC, a Sioux City, Iowa-based construction company, Rosen tells EPM.

CPT has completed multiple preliminary engineering studies for ethanol projects, Giguere says. Currently, the company is working with nine or 10 ethanol producers actively interested in their fractionation system. At press time, a contract had been signed to build a CPT fractionation system for a 100 MMgy ethanol facility expected to come on line in the third quarter of 2007, Rosen tells EPM. Further details were unavailable. "Quite honestly, the fuel ethanol industry is the best match for our technology," he says.

Standing Out in the Crowd
While CPT doesn't offer the only fractionation system out there, the company does have some differentiating factors, Giguere tells EPM. For one thing, fractionation is something with which it is intimately familiar. The technology is currently licensed for use at three separately owned food or industrial processing facilities. "This is not a guess or a hope, or a ‘maybe we can do it,'" he says. "We have [supplied technology to] operating plants that one can visit and see the process in use," he says. "It's a known technology that is operating in three places every day, producing de-germed, de-fibered corn."

One of those facilities is a small industrial plant in Kansas. That company, which Giguere declined to name, uses fractionation to de-germ corn and produce industrial starches, which are used in its own industrial process.

The other two plants are corn processing facilities that use the technology to produce food products. Agricor Inc., in Marion, Ind., and Glidden-based Iowa Corn Processors produce food products such as batters, breading, corn grits, meal and flours for the breakfast and snack industries, Giguere says.

At Iowa Corn Processors, the largest single customer is Anheuser-Busch. The company purchases de-germed, de-fibered corn to make alcohol, Giguere says. The beer industry has been using fractionated corn to make alcohol for 100 years.

So when CPT employees talk to prospective clients about things like plant throughputs and yields, they don't have to guess. "We're not afraid to make process guarantees because it's something we do every day," Giguere tells EPM.

The process itself is "significantly different" from other fractionation technologies that he's aware of, he continues. Most, if not nearly all, fractionation systems use friction to rub off the bran and gouge off the germ. Then there's a rather long process of polishing, drying and sifting, using gravity tables and purifiers to concentrate the endosperm, germ and bran portions separately. Though it's referred to as a dry fractionation process, most systems require the addition of a significant amount of water to the corn, he says.

The CPT system, on the other hand, utilizes a patented method of squeezing the corn kernel from the edges to the center, which causes it to break and release the germ. Next, the corn moves on to finely corrugated differential roller mills, where the endosperm is broken into small pieces, leaving the germ large enough to be easily separated, he says.

With a shorter process, CPT fractionation uses less equipment, energy and manpower. The system also requires less water addition, which means no drying is needed. For the user, that equals a smaller capital investment and lower operating costs. "We haven't found anyone who duplicates what we do for any less money," Giguere says.

With CPT, ethanol plants will get a very high degree of fractionation. That puts the most possible endosperm, germ and bran into the three product streams. Although it's not possible to achieve perfect fractions with a dry system, CPT gets the closest among the systems the company is aware of. "We've never seen anyone that would claim to have a more effective fractionation than we have," Giguere says.

Adding Up the Value
Though it has taken a while for fractionation technology to catch the interest of ethanol producers, interest does seem to be growing, Giguere says. Today, more producers recognize the value of a system that would help them to increase the bottom line and insulate them from high corn prices.

An on-site front-end fractionation system enhances the economics of an ethanol plant, Rosen says. The most obvious benefit is that utilizing the fractionated starch stream results in more efficient fermentation of the plant's primary product. Of course, fractionation technology also provides an ethanol plant with value-added products in the form of germ and bran. Separately, the different components of a corn kernel are more valuable than the whole, Giguere says.

Germ is about 10 percent to 12 percent of the whole corn and contains almost three-fourths of the oil. That oil can be extracted at the ethanol plant or sold to someone else for extraction, Giguere says. The remaining material makes a good animal feed.

The bran—or the hard, translucent coating on the outside of a corn kernel—can also help pad an ethanol plant's bottom line. It can either be sold as a fiber additive for animal feed or burned as a fuel source for the plant, Giguere says. Corn bran is high in carbon and low in ash content.

As well as creating ethanol more efficiently, removing the germ portion of the corn kernel has other benefits, Rosen says. Those in the ethanol industry have told him that the corn oil can lead to plugging, which increases the need for cleaning. "When you take the oil and germ out at the front end, it tends to make the plant run a little better," he says.

Fractionating corn also translates into high-protein, low-oil distillers dried grains (DDG) at the back end, opening up markets for swine and poultry feed. That product could be as much as 35 percent more valuable than the coproduct made at a traditional ethanol plant, Rosen says. Producers should come out about even economically with this product, as there is less of it produced with this method. However, there are additional benefits in the form of energy savings as a result of a decreased need for drying the smaller amount of DDG, Rosen says.

Giguere adds, "We have less solids to remove at the back, we have less solids to dry at the back, and those solids are significantly higher in protein and higher in value."

With additional revenue streams, increased efficiency and energy savings, ethanol plants utilizing fractionation can increase profitability significantly. "It has a very good payout, usually in less than two years," Rosen says.

For more information about CPT, visit www.cerealprocess.com or call (314) 344-3299.

Holly Jessen is an Ethanol Producer Magazine staff writer. Reach her at hjessen@bbibiofuels.com or (701) 746-8385.