During the past year, corn growers have watched with anticipation as ethanol demand continued to accelerate and at least 73 new plants began construction. Ethanol production could easily reach 11 billion gallons in 2011, requiring 4 billion bushels of corn—nearly twice as much as consumed by ethanol in 2006, according to the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA).
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In response to ethanol demand, major seed manufacturers, including Monsanto Company, Pioneer Hi-Bred International Inc. and Syngenta, have launched corn varieties intended to increase ethanol yield from every bushel. Today, growers can choose from hundreds of high total fermentable (HTF) hybrids designed for ethanol and bred across all maturities.
"In the industry we are starting to think in terms of gallons per acre instead of bushels per acre,” says Russ Sanders, Pioneer marketing director for quality traits. Average ethanol yield per bushel of corn is 2.8 gal., up from 2.5 gal. several years ago. The result: An acre of 160 bu. corn yields nearly 450 gal. of ethanol.
The road to 1,000 gal. That per acre number may soon be higher if farmers and ethanol plants adopt new technologies to squeeze more ethanol out of corn. Seed industry leaders estimate ethanol hybrids that have higher levels of fermentable starch can yield 3% to 5% more ethanol per bushel than conventional corn.
Coupled with fiber conversion at the ethanol processing level, which yields an additional 10% ethanol per bushel, the industry could see an increase of about 15% more ethanol per bushel, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
"Our goal is 1,000 gal. of ethanol per acre of corn,” Sanders adds. "We think it's achievable with higher-yielding ethanol hybrids, improved cellulosic conversion technologies and ethanol feedstocks beyond grain.”
- December 2009