Going Beyond Old Limits

Ethanol Producer Magazine's editor reflects on how a culture of collaboration is driving the development of better fermentation products, higher coproduct yields and drone utilization, each of which is covered in depth in the January issue
By Tom Bryan | December 26, 2021

On the surface, the stories in this edition of Ethanol Producer Magazine are somewhat unrelated. Okay … they’re totally unrelated: drones, yeast and corn oil are about as different as it gets. But looking at these topics more obliquely, points of connection emerge. Each feature is tied to a producer-vendor collaboration requiring investment and trust. Ultimately, each topic is also about ethanol plants pushing past our industry’s old limits, going beyond former thresholds of yield and efficiency.

Few topics more completely capture our industry’s culture of collaborative progress than yeast innovation. Ethanol’s biological process is, of course, reliant on the natural ability of yeasts and enzymes to convert sugars to ethanol at the highest possible yield. But the ecosystem of an ethanol plant is unpredictable; heat stress and bacterial infection can and do cause problems. So, over the years yeasts have been engineered to give ethanol producers more of the traits they need to combat process variability—high yield, flexibility, robustness and more—in packages tailormade for their facility. In “Pouring On Improvement,” we learn that today’s yeasts are, well, just better—at everything—and achieving levels of effectiveness and tolerance that seemed almost impossible a few years ago.

Speaking of things previously not possible, ethanol producers are literally redefining the theoretical maximum yield for distillers corn oil (DCO). Until recently, the speculative limit on DCO yield was 1.2 to 1.25 pounds per bushel. But now that producers are achieving that number, experts say the real ceiling may be as high as 1.9 pounds per bushel—a figure more clearly perched in the realm of theoretical. While it’s exciting to think about how high DCO yields could go, most producers are still comfortable with 0.7 to 0.9 pounds per bushel, and only a handful are chasing anything about 1.1. Covering DCO maximization is always challenging because, beyond explaining how higher yields are possible, it’s also important to clarify why, and to what effect, it is happening. “Wringing Out More Corn Oil," does a good job of each.

Paired with these stories about ethanol production reaching new heights—and going into new places—our cover story is a perfect fit. In “Flying Up Close and Within,” we explain how ethanol plants are using drones for more than just aerial photography. Trained plant personnel are now flying drones both outside facilities and inside them, even taking confined space, collision-resistant quadcopters into tanks, bins and vessels that were previously dangerous or impossible to physically access. These drones are not only taking photos and video with stunning clarity and live-streaming capability, but offering 3D and thermal imagery that is truly on the cutting-edge of industrial inspection, plant maintenance, compliance and safety.    
Happy New Year, and enjoy the read! 

Author: Tom Bryan
Editor and President
BBI International