FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 4, 2012
IRFA Highlights Renewable Fuels Industry’s Top 10 Efficiency and Technology Innovations of the Past Decade
JOHNSTON, IOWA – As a part of its 10th Anniversary celebration of progress and prosperity, the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association (IRFA) today released a list of the ethanol and biodiesel industry’s Top 10 efficiency and technology innovations of the past decade. The Top 10 list was compiled through a survey of IRFA’s membership.
“Much has been written about the growth of ethanol and biodiesel production since the first RFS was passed in 2005, but the untold success story is the corresponding efficiency and technology innovations,” stated IRFA Vice President and Absolute Energy CEO Rick Schwarck. “This Top Ten list tells a small piece of this story of breakthroughs that have enabled the renewable fuels industry to persevere in challenging economic times while still producing low cost, high performance motor fuel. Clearly today’s renewable fuels industry is not your father’s gasohol plant.”
U.S. Renewable Fuels Industry’s Top 10
Efficiency and Technology Innovations Over Past Decade
- Corn Production Gains (in both yield and total bushels)
In 2001, the U.S. harvested 9.5 billion bushels of corn from 69 million acres, for a yield of 138 bushels per acre. Ten years later in 2011, 12.4 billion bushels of corn were harvested from 84 million acres, resulting in a 147 bushels per acre yield. This increased corn output has allowed U.S. ethanol production to grow from 1.77 billion gallons in 2001 to 13.9 billion gallons in 2011 while not taking corn away from food, feed, export or industrial uses.
2. Ethanol Yield Increases
Since 2001, the average ethanol yield in the U.S. has increased 3-5% to roughly 2.8 gallons per bushel. Without this improvement it would have taken an additional 250 million bushels of corn to generate 2011’s ethanol production. The improved yield has been fueled by ethanol producers’ investments in enhanced enzymes such as alpha amylase, which improves the breakdown of starch in corn to maximize the conversion to ethanol. Similarly, ethanol production has also seen huge improvements in yeast varieties. Today’s ethanol plants utilize yeast that have been engineered specifically for the ethanol industry to withstand high concentrations of alcohol, high temperatures, and infections. There are even strains of yeast today that secrete their own enzymes to enhance ethanol production.
3. Water Utilization Improvements
Over the past decade, water use in dry mill ethanol plants has dropped from 4.7 to 2.72 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol produced. This positive change has been made possible by improved chemicals, or anti-scaling agents, which allow ethanol plants to recycle an increased amount of cooling water as process water prior to discharging. Gasoline production requires much more water per gallon.
4. Energy Efficiency Advancements
Compared to 2001, ethanol production today requires 28% less thermal energy (from natural gas or coal) per gallon and 32% less electricity per gallon. One breakthrough was the advent of low cook fermentation. Instead of heating slurry tanks to 230 degrees a new enzyme allows starch to be converted to sugars at only 175 degrees, dramatically reducing the need for steam heat. Additional factors contributing to improved energy efficiency for ethanol production include the increased use of heat exchangers, which allow plants to reuse heat from the production process, and advanced process controls which enable more efficient operations in boilers and dryers.
5. Lower Cost Feedstocks for Biodiesel Conversion
The ability to utilize low-cost, high-free fatty acid (FFA) feedstocks for conversion to biodiesel has been an important breakthrough. With roughly 80 percent of the cost of biodiesel production tied up in feedstocks, technology advancements that have made it possible to convert lower cost waste oils and fats into biodiesel have given producers much-needed feedstock flexibility to manage costs and maximize competitiveness. In addition to soybean oil, used cooking oil, yellow grease and inedible corn oil from ethanol production are now common feedstocks.
6. Corn Oil Extraction
One of the most significant breakthroughs in ethanol production over the past ten years has been corn oil extraction from distillers grains. This process, whereby oil is mechanically spun out of distiller grains, was nonexistent in 2001 but is now adding value to approximately 80 percent of dry mill ethanol plants. Corn oil has strong demand in the feed and biodiesel markets.
7. DDGS Enhancements (in both quality and consistency)
You cannot utilize all of the dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) from a 14-billion gallon ethanol industry in local markets. To grow, ethanol producers needed to create a national and international market for DDGS. However, in 2001 DDGS shipped cross-country in rail cars often had to be broken apart with jackhammers to be unloaded – clearly not what the customer wanted. Ethanol producers learned how to avoid this by lowering the starch and sugar content of the product, and advanced process controls have allowed DDGS to be dried more precisely, assuring a more consistent product. Today’s DDGS can be unloaded quickly and efficiently from specially designed railcars or shipped by container anywhere from Canada to China.
8. New Catalysts for Biodiesel Production
An oil or fat reacts with methanol to create biodiesel. Catalysts reduce the time and enhance the level of biodiesel conversion. Over the last ten years, improved biodiesel catalysts have sped the conversion, minimized waste solids and waste water and lowered operating costs.
9. Advanced Process Controls
While the “human touch” is still essential, the adoption of Advanced Process Controls (APC) has brought a new level of precision to renewable fuels production. According to ICM, these integrated hardware and software systems are “designed to bring a plant to maximum efficiency by eliminating variability in operational parameters in critical areas such as slurry solids, water balance, beer column evaporators, molecular sieves, dryers, fermentation and stillage/centrifuges. The benefits provided by (APC) include increased profitability, improved operations, and enhanced visibility of key performance indicators, which provide the ability to track process performance and long-term sustainability through ongoing performance, monitoring and reporting.”
10. Unit Train Utilization
At the beginning of the past decade, ethanol was transported mainly by truck or a few “manifest” railcars at a time. That may have been fine in 2001, but it simply was not cost or time efficient for a 14-billion gallon per year industry. Today, ethanol’s most common mode of transportation is 80-100 car unit trains that power directly from an ethanol plant to the final destination. By reducing transportation time, this “virtual pipeline” has allowed a typical plant to reduce the size of its railcar fleet from 300-350 cars down to about 200 cars today.
Iowa is the leader in renewable fuels production. Iowa has 13 biodiesel facilities with the capacity to produce 320 million gallons annually. In addition, Iowa has 41 ethanol refineries capable of producing nearly 3.7 billion gallons annually and one new facility under construction.
The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association was formed in 2002 to represent the state’s liquid renewable fuels industry. The trade group fosters the development and growth of the renewable fuels industry in Iowa through education, promotion, legislation and infrastructure development.
For more information, visit the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association website at:
For more information, visit the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association website at: www.IowaRFA.org