Lallemand's annual Ethanol School kicks off in Montreal

By Susanne Retka Schill | September 18, 2012

For 32 years, the Alcohol School has provided an educational and networking opportunity for fuel and beverage alcohol industry employees and suppliers. This fall’s course began Monday in Montreal with 90 participants. About one-third of the participants represent the beverage alcohol industry and the remainder the fuel ethanol industry. The U.S. had the largest group in attendance, followed by Canada and other individuals from Brazil, Venezuela, Scotland, Malaysia and the Virgin Islands. Hosted by the Ethanol Technology Institute and Lallemand Ethanol Technology, the Montreal course is duplicated each year in Toulouse, France, while an operator’s course is held in Omaha, Neb.

The goal of the week-long course is to help participants develop an understanding of the chemical, physical and biological unit operations and process improvements that alter the economics of alcohol production, explained Graeme Walker, scientific director of the Ethanol Technology Institute and director of the Abertay University Yeast Research Group in Scotland. 

In a global overview of the fuel ethanol industry on the first day, Craig Pilgrim, global marketing and product development manager for Lallemand Ethanol Technology, pointed out that after steady growth in North American ethanol production for many years, 2012’s estimated production of 14.42 billion gallons will be lower than the 2011’s production of 14.47 billion gallons. And, while ethanol prices have remained relatively stable, “with oil going up, it is still favoring ethanol blending.” South American production is projected to be 5.64 billion gallons this year, he said, down slightly from last year’s 5.72 billion gallons. Europe follows with 1.3 billion gallons estimated for 2012, up from 1.17 last year, Asian production is 1.05 billion gallons and 62 million gallons in Africa.

On the beverage alcohol side of the business, emerging economies are driving industry growth, said Steve Wright, consultant with Spiritech Solutions. China is expected to consume two-thirds of global volume growth in the next five years, with its favored drink, baijiu, leading the world production of spirits by volume. Beverage alcohol production is more than two times greater than China’s production of fuel ethanol, he added.

Vodka is second in global volume, with Russia comprising a massive, though declining market, and the U.S, playing a big role in the vodka market. Soju, a traditional sprit in Korea and Japan, takes third place.

Brazil is a top growth market for Scotch whiskey, while it favors its indigenous spirit called cachaca, produced from cane juice by tens of thousands of small producers, placing it fourth in global spirits production by volume. Whiskey, brandy, rum and tequila make up the remaining top global spirits, in order of volume produced. India is one of the fastest growing spirits markets, dominated by molasses-based whiskies and rums. While the relative production volumes are known, total global production is not, Wright said. “Many countries don’t know their production.”  

Following the global industry overviews, the Alcohol School turned to more detailed presentations on individual sectors of the process, splitting the class into fuel and beverage sections. The first day of the fuel ethanol sessions covered grain purchasing and milling considerations, the characteristics of majors feedstocks and how they affect the process, a discussion of enzymes and the details of liquefaction and maximizing starch availability.

Day two will dig into the details of yeast, fermentation and distillation. Wednesday’s session focus on quality assurance and sanitation. The week closes with tours of the Biotechnology Research Institute of the National Research Council of Canada, Lallemand’s yeast plant in Montreal, the GreenField Ethanol plant in Varennes, Quebec, and Diageo Global Supply at Valleyfield, Quebec