Enogen corn expected to have multiple benefits for ethanol plants

By Holly Jessen | August 23, 2012

Syngenta recently announced that two more ethanol plants, Siouxland Ethanol LLC and Golden Grain LLC, will conduct trials of its corn specially engineered for the ethanol industry. “If it works as we think it might, and course that’s the purpose of the trial, is to find out if in fact it does, without changing any equipment, pumps and mills and all of those other things, we believe we could produce more ethanol than we could without that product,” said Chuck Hofland, general manager of Siouxland Ethanol, a 50 MMgy plant in Jackson, Neb.

Enogen corn is the first grain genetically engineered specifically for the ethanol industry, with the alpha amylase enzyme necessary for dry grind ethanol production built into the grain. When used for ethanol production it eliminates the need to add liquid amylase, leading to increases in throughput and possible cost reductions in energy, gas and water usage, Syngenta said in a press release.

Syngenta’s Enogen corn received full deregulation in February 2011 after 2008 and 2009 trials at Western Plains Energy LLC and Quad County Corn Processors, the latter of which signed a commercial agreement with Syngenta. In July, Bonanza BioEnergy LLC completed a trial of the corn and Syngenta is optimistic that the ethanol plant will also sign a commercial agreement David Witherspoon, the head of renewable fuels for Syngenta told Ethanol Producer Magazine. “Additionally, Syngenta is negotiating agreements with two other plants for both trialing and commercial production using Enogen grain in 2013,” he said.

The Enogen trials at Siouxland Ethanol and Golden Grain will be conducted in the spring of 2013 with corn harvested this fall. The corn was planted in limited geographic areas this spring, including acres planted under contracted for use at the Quad County Corn Processors plant, Witherspoon said. Additional acres were planted in northwest Iowa, western Nebraska and northwestern Kansas for use at Siouxland Ethanol and Golden Grain.

Siouxland Ethanol was first approached by Syngenta about conducting Enogen trials a couple of years ago, Hofland said. The idea of increased throughput was extremely attractive when margins were better when ethanol producers made more money on every gallon pushed through the plant. “Today’s environment, margins based on what they are, throughput isn’t maybe as important as it was a year or two ago,” he said.

Still, the current economic situation doesn’t “totally derail” Siouxland Ethanol’s interest in Enogen corn. First off, Hofland believes the margin structure will change with time. Secondly, besides helping an ethanol plant increase its capacity, Enogen corn helps save money in enzyme costs, because it’s already in the corn alpha amylase enzyme doesn’t need to be added in for fermentation. In addition, when enzymes aren’t added to the mix there shouldn’t be a need for pH control, such as adding ammonia—another potential cost savings that Hofland hopes will be confirmed during the trial. Finally, although the corn can technically be used for other uses besides ethanol production, it’s possible area corn farmers will see some benefit in contracting to grow the corn specifically for the local ethanol plant.  

When an ethanol plant signs a commercial agreement, Syngenta partners with the facility to contract with area corn growers for a supply of Enogen grain, the company said. In exchange for contracting to grow the corn they are paid a price premium for grain delivered to the ethanol plant. “We believe Enogen corn is truly a win-win technology,” said Witherspoon. “The premium paid to each grower for each bushel of Enogen corn produced helps create substantial value and profit potential for their operation as well.”