New ethanol technologies create nutrient differences in distillers’ grains
Adry summer and fall in cattle country this past year means only one thing to cows at the bunk: feed supplies are tight.
Low hay supplies and high corn prices mean livestock producers are stretching their forage dollars even more wisely this winter season. "Feed distillers’!" is the resounding cry from the feed industry. But just as producers get a handle on the product, new technologies are changing the game again.
In the past 10 years, as ethanol production has grown to support a large component of our gasoline supply, more cattle, hog and poultry producers have incorporated dry distillers’ grains into feed rations as a lower-cost alternative feedstock. New technologies, such as corn fractionation on the front end and oil extraction on the back of the fuel conversion process, are
improving the golden fuel’s profit line. But they are also changing the coproduct that many livestock producers are using as alternative feed.
"When we talk about technology in ethanol plants, 10 years ago the thought was to produce as much ethanol as possible from a bushel of corn. There was really not much thought given to coproducts or what else could be done with that kernel of corn," says Geoff Cooper, vice president of research and analysis for the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA). "Today ethanol plants are looking at what we can do to extract the maximum value out of that corn kernel coming into the plant."
Oil extravaganza. Extracting corn oil can be done several ways. Poet Ethanol uses a low-energy BPX fermentation process, called cold-cook, that eliminates heat from fermentation. The corn oil is captured on the back end of the process after BPX and marketed under the name Voilà. The technology has been installed in six Poet plants, with more on the way this year. The combined production of the six plants will total 12 million gallons of corn oil per year for use as a biodiesel feedstock by the end of 2011.
"Corn oil technology is the next step for the corn ethanol industry," says Steve Murphy, manager of Poet’s Laddonia, Mo., plant. "This will lower the fat content of distillers’, and simultaneously raise the percent of protein content per ton."
Valero Energy completed modifications on its first plant for corn oil extraction in November, and is capturing 1½ lb. to 2 lb. of oil per bushel of corn. The Fort Dodge, Iowa, facility is the first of four plants that will be modified with ICM Technologies’ Advanced Oil System to capture corn oil. In this process, the oil is separated after the slurry is cooked, before fermentation and distillery.
The cost to update each of Valero’s plants is about $4 million, says Bill Day, communications representative for the company.
"The corn oil extraction equipment is at low enough cost that once we get it installed, we expect a payback on the expenditure in less than two years. So it will be a low-cost, high-return business," Day adds.
The decision on whether to convert more of Valero’s 10 ethanol plants will be made early this year, he says.
While ethanol continues to be the main value driver for the industry, RFA’s Cooper says, it is the complimentary coproducts that will diversify a plant’s product stream and enhance the value of its products.
"That is where corn oil extraction technology comes into play. There is a large percentage of the industry, maybe up to half, that is extracting corn oil from distillers’ grains," Cooper says.
"It’s a value-added product we can extract to give us one more revenue stream out of the ethanol plants. The corn oil also has applications for livestock feed. It’s not food-grade corn oil, but we would be able to sell it to industrial applications and livestock feed markets," says Valero’s Day.
|The Laddonia, Mo., plant is one of six Poet ethanol plants capturing corn oil. In 2011, Poet siphoned enough corn oil to yield 12 million gallons of biodiesel. Photo: Sara Brown
Find the balance. That new market means even more feed options for livestock producers and a need for diligent nutrition testing and research.
Taking the oil, or fat, out of distillers’ grains can actually decrease the economic value of the product for some livestock feeders, says Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting in Eagle, Neb.
"Fat contains 2.25 times the energy value of starch, which is the major contributing factor for distillers’ grains having a higher energy value than regular corn. When you pull the oil out, you actually are reducing the energy content of that distillers’ product," Fanning says.
Similar to a crop farmer shopping for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, livestock producers should analyze which nutrients their distillers’ grains contain and build the appropriate ration for hogs, poultry, feedlot cattle, beef or dairy cows.
Fanning and his colleagues monitor the nutritional analysis of distillers’ grain products from several plants. While there are differences in nutrients and prices, he says, it all factors into the equation of finding the most nutrient per dollar.
"Ethanol companies are not at all similar in product profiles. We work with plants that traditionally run 8% fat, while others test 13% to 14% fat. We have been tracking plants that had a high fat level and have lowered it down to about 4% fat because they have started extracting oil," he says.
While a high-fat diet offers higher energy values for feedlot cattle, a lower-fat ration can improve digestibility for backgrounded calves and cows.
The key is to use a nutritional analysis to build a ration that enables livestock to perform. "Whether the plant is selling to a farmer, feeder or someone blending distillers’ into another product, they all want a consistent product. They want to work off a complete nutrient profile," Poet’s Murphy says.
Considerations in Adding Distillers' Grains to a Ration
Dry distillers’ grains, whether traditional, low-fat or anti-biotic-free, need to be entered into a balanced ration that is appropriate for the livestock you are feeding.
The first step is to get familiar with the products that are available in your area, says Kip Karges, director of research for Poet Nutrition. Local nutritionists, feed company salesmen and university researchers are good sources for information on feed products in your area and the successes or challenges of different coproducts.
Rank the contents. Comparing distillers’ grains to other feedstuffs can be tricky, says Ki Fanning, a nutritionist with Great Plains Livestock Consulting, Eagle, Neb.
"Moisture content is the No. 1 thing and the consistency of the product, No. 2," he says. "When I send distillers’ grains off for analysis, I want to know the moisture, fat and sulfur contents. Those are the three main players; protein and phosphorus would be next.
"Moisture content will tell you the percent dry matter basis, but you also have fat, which brings the energy value to the product," Fanning says.
"Protein is a little farther down the list. Most people look at that first, but if you are feeding distillers’ correctly, you probably have plenty of protein," he says.
Sulfur can be a limiter for the amount of distillers’ you can use. "When sulfur hits the rumen, it can cause a toxicity called PEM [Polioencephalomalacia]—not so much for cattle on grass, but for feedlot situations. When people feeding distillers’ with 40% to 50% inclusion rate, you have a potential for getting too much sulfur," Karges says.
If you are feeding a high-fiber diet, such as a backgrounding, cow or dairy ration, too much fat can kill fiber-digesting microorganisms in the rumen, reducing digestibility, Fanning says. "Be careful when adding high-fat products to a high-fiber diet."
A positive for the cow–calf producer is the amount of phosphorus in distillers’. "Phosphorus is one of the most expensive minerals that producers supplement and plays many roles, from reproduction to movement of nutrients in the body to overall cell health of the animal. We can cut back on supplemental phosphorus, a savings that many people capitalize on when feeding dry distillers’ grains," Karges says.