CI Reduction Permeates Ethanol Industry, and Our Coverage

Ethanol Producer Magazine's editor points out that CI reduction is a recurring thread that keeps showing up in the publication's coverage, which this month includes enzymes and yeast innovation, CHP and a timely profile of an emergent SAF producer.
By Tom Bryan | December 20, 2022

The picturesque winter scene on our cover doesn’t give it away, but the stories in this January edition of Ethanol Producer Magazine are tied together by a subtle thread that has nothing to do with snow covered fields or red barns—we just liked the picture (Happy Holidays). Our coverage begins with a pair of stories on enzyme and yeast innovation, followed by a timely article on a proposed alcohol-to-jet fuel project in South Dakota and another on the growing appeal of combined heat and power (CHP). If you read all four, a point of connection should emerge: carbon intensity (CI) reduction. And no, we didn’t expect CI reduction to pop up in each piece, but it does. Month after month, CI keeps coming up.      

Our paired coverage of enzymes and yeast begins with “Lifting Up Production,” a story about how ethanol producers are unlocking more value from corn and other feedstocks with evolved cocktails of enzymes with attributes like high-heat tolerance that help them improve yield—for both ethanol and corn oil—and corn fiber degradation traits. As suppliers tell us, it’s not only about improving production consistency and upping ethanol and coproduct yield, but bringing down CI to help producers reach low-carbon markets. And they say there has been a shift in customer priorities, with DCO output and CI reduction now sharing the stage with ethanol yield—and, hence, the introduction of boundary-pushing products to make it all happen.

Our coverage of enzymes and yeast is divided, but barely. The two inputs, of course, have connected roles in production—there are even enzyme-expressing yeast strains on the market. And suppliers are leveraging their combined knowledge of both yeast and enzyme development to determine the best combinations of the two to help customers hit new operational targets: convert more starch and fiber, make more corn oil, improve overall performance and cut input costs. That’s a lot to ask, but yeast companies are delivering. In “Drawing Out More” we find out how they’re introducing new products that meet these goals, enabling producers to “hit every part of the production curve with confidence.” For plants that simply want to run hard, there are fast-fermentation yeasts for that, too. And, as promised, there are even yeasts billed as low-CI products, designed to access a greater portion of the corn kernel, increasing production without more feedstock.

Achieving very low, if not negative, CI is especially important to Gevo Inc., the Colorado-based company that intends to build a large sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) biorefinery in eastern South Dakota. As we report in “Digging Into Decarbonization,” the idea behind this ambitious plan is that by combining low-carbon farming practices with state-of-the-art, low CI ethanol and SAF production—powered by renewable energy—corn ethanol can play a major role in de-fossilizing the aviation industry. It’s a bold plan, and Gevo intends to make it happen by 2025.

Finally, be sure to read “Stepping Up to CHP Platforms,” a story about how CHP has become a front-and-center play for ethanol producers on—you guessed it—CI reduction quests. California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard has been a big driver of recent CHP installations, but for producers eyeing carbon capture and sequestration—which requires a significant amount of additional power—CHP is almost a must-have.

Author: Tom Bryan
President and Editor