Researchers reveal increased efficiencies in ethanol production

By Chris Hanson | May 01, 2013

A study by Steffen Mueller, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago Energy Resources Center, and John Kwik, president of Dominion Energy Services LLC, surveyed ethanol producers and revealed a growing trend in ethanol yield and efficient energy usage in ethanol production.

Of the 162 plants operating in 2012, 84 responded to the survey. According to the results, the average plant used roughly 9 percent less thermal energy than reported in the last survey done in 2008, at 23,862 Btu per gallon of ethanol produced.  Water used per gallon of undenatured ethanol decreased to 2.7 gallons. The average ethanol yield in 2012 is 2.82 gallons per bushel of corn, compared to 2.78 in 2008.  Corn oil extraction, which was minimal in 2008, saw nearly a five-fold increase, to an average 0.53 pounds per bushel of corn processed.

Unlike the 2008 survey, this recent study features emerging technologies, such as corn oil recovery and combined heat and power systems, and their effect on production and energy usage. Furthermore, the study demonstrates four plant configurations, utilizing the featured emerging technologies, to serve as examples of different arrangements of ethanol plants.

Mueller said the survey shows the ethanol industry is still dynamic and improving despite economic hardships within the last five years. 

“Once again, the innovation and dedication of this industry is borne out in the science and data. Ethanol producers are constantly evolving, innovating and improving the production process,” said Bob Dinneen, CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association. “As a result, today’s ethanol industry is using less energy and water than ever before and greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with the corn ethanol lifecycle. Today’s ethanol producers are conscientious stewards of this country’s precious resources and this country’s energy future. The ethanol industry is a classic example of American ingenuity driving success.”

The survey was sponsored by the National Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Corn Marketing Board with additional support from the RFA, Growth Energy and the Nebraska Ethanol Board.

A more detailed article about the study will be released in the June issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine