SPOTLIGHT: Feed Diversification, Differentiation Drive ICM Advancement

Innovative suite of technologies transforms distillers grains into high-value feed ingredients.
By ICM Inc. | June 07, 2021

Innovative suite of technologies transforms distillers grains into high-value feed ingredients.
“Our technologies were developed out of improvements in our ethanol process,” says Matt Durler, ICM vice president of feed development. “However, we’ve found major benefits for both ethanol producers and animal feeders in providing new feed options. The feed no longer has to be one-size-fits-all. It can be tailored to individual markets.”

ICM’s Advanced Processing Package combines four patented and patent-pending technologies:  Selective Milling Technology (SMT/SMTV2), Fiber Separation Technology (FST/FSTNextGen), Feed Optimization Technology (FOT), and Thin Stillage Solids Separation System (TS4). Together, the APP platform technologies allow producers to separate “clean piles” of valuable feed components that are unique to the ICM process: fiber, protein, enhanced protein with yeast and solubles. The clean piles can be combined in many different ways to design customized feed products for different animals.

The new feed products are moving beyond crude, Durler says. “Beyond crude protein, crude fiber, crude fat. We have to dig deeper to understand what really matters to the end user. APP gives ethanol producers the option of creating a wide variety of animal feed, from products that provide high energy to cattle and pigs, to products that concentrate protein for the higher-valued monogastric space and aquaculture, with the potential for further refining critical amino acids for pet food and specific species.”

Removing the fiber before fermentation with FST creates a very low fiber stream that FOT concentrates to create fermented, protein-rich distillers grains. When the protein is combined with the yeast cake separated from TS4, it creates a 50% or higher protein feed that ICM trademarked as PROTOMAX. Durler adds, “50% yeast-enriched protein products have been consistently trading at or above soybean meal prices and as high as $200 per ton above traditional DDGS.”

In addition to producing PROTOMAX, ethanol biorefineries can produce a new feed by combining two other feed components. “The pile of non-fermented fiber separated by FST meets the legal definition of bran—a well-understood feed ingredient. This bran is combined with solubles separated by TS4 to create a feed that is as nutritious as conventional DDGS,” says Ryan Mass, ICM’s director of nutrition and feed development. ICM has trademarked this new feed as SOLBRAN.

“It was no surprise that bran plus solubles performs well in cattle rations,” Mass continues. ICM supplied product for three feed conversion trials conducted with beef cattle in 2018 at the University of Nebraska. “In these three studies, we pulled feed from two plants with FST and ran the trial three times. Two times, this feed tied with DDGS in performance and the third time, we beat DDGS.”  Swine research conducted at the University of Minnesota in 2020 reached a similar conclusion: the metabolizable energy available to pigs from SOLBRAN was equal to regular DDGS.

Preserving Feed Quality, Lowering Carbon
In drying, preservation of the protein and bran functionality and digestibility is critical, says Chuck Gallop, ICM operations development manager, technology development. “ICM has carefully designed the APP process for intensified continuous dewatering, which allows rotary dryers to do an excellent job preserving the feed quality.”

A traditional plant produces decanter wet cake around 37% solids, Gallop says. “By fractionating these components and processing them independently, we see a 5% to 7% increase in solids to 41% to 44%, and up to one pound of oil per bushel of corn, which is substantial.”

The fiber separated with FST at the front end is processed through a proprietary rotary press to achieve roughly 40% to 41% solids. With the fiber removed, the remaining stillage after fermentation contains fewer suspended solids, Gallops says, “which means we can optimize the decanter centrifuge to dewater that protein to as much as 45% solids. When you put the wet cake into the dryer to remove the remaining water, it requires less time, and the temperature doesn’t need to be as high.”

PROTOMAX is directed to one dryer with optimized settings, while the bran and soluble fractions are combined and directed to the other dryer. The conveyors are engineered to maximize customization, Gallop says. “We can put the bran and solubles and protein back together to make traditional distillers grains, keep them separate, or anything in between.”

Incorporating TS4 technology adds more efficiencies. “TS4 uses high G-force centrifuges to remove suspended solids from the centrate. With the suspended solids removed, the evaporators operate more efficiently on the remaining thin stillage, achieving solids concentrations greater than 50% instead of the typical syrup with 30% to 35% solids. The water removed from the solubles in the evaporator systems is available for recycling, rather than being removed in the dryers and vented to the atmosphere.

The combined efficiencies translate to reduced natural gas usage up to 12%, Gallop says, plus a reduction in electrical consumption up to 5%. The electric reduction is counter intuitive, he admits, because adding more equipment with motors would be expected to use more horsepower and electricity. The opposite happens, Gallop says. “When the ethanol plant pulls fiber out before fermentation, all of the downstream equipment works more efficiently. The pumps and agitators don’t have to keep the fiber suspended, which means they do less work and use less electricity. When TS4 removes suspended solids from thin stillage, the resulting syrup is up to 10 times less viscous and each of the evaporation recirculating pumps uses less horsepower.”

Trimming energy use results in major savings and carbon intensity reductions close to 2 to 4 points. Alongside high-value, differentiated feed products, APP enhances the process in multiple other ways to improve the bottom line, Gallop suggests, with the opportunity to create more cash flow through strategic technology investments.

Published in July 2021 issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine