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May 24, 2002
Scientists Find New Use for Agricultural Byproducts
EarthVision Environmental News
RICHLAND, WA, May 23, 2002 - What would you do with the nearly 14 billion pounds of fiber byproduct that is produced each year by the U.S. corn milling industry? If you were a researcher at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) you would use it to create high value food, consumer and fuel products.
The 14 billion pounds of byproduct fibers that are produced as a result of corn hulls being removed to allow the starch, vegetable oil and protein found in corn kernels to be processed, are primarily used for cattle feed. The fibers are often the lowest value product of corn milling, something PNNL scientists hope to change.
Working with the National Corn Growers Association and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, PNNL scientists are hoping to change this low-value product into high value consumer products and fuel ethanol - a valuable product that helps reduce dependence on oil. To produce these higher-value products from the corn fibers researchers developed a process that separates the fiber into lipids, carbohydrates and proteins, it's most basic components.
"We're taking something that had very low market value and opening up lucrative new markets for it, while also creating new supplies for existing, higher-margin markets," said Todd Werpy, program manager for PNNL Environmental Technology Directorate. "In essence, we've developed an economically attractive disassembly process to get out what we knew was in the fiber, but couldn't be recovered cost-effectively in the past."
When lipids are separated from the fiber byproduct they result in trace amounts of extractable sterols, which have high-value in cosmetics, shampoo and other personal care products applications. Because there is a limited supply of sterols, this new process will help the market meet consumer demand.
Carbohydrates are the part of the fiber sold for cattle feed. Through this new process, scientists use the carbohydrates to produce a number of sugars that can be converted into propylene glycol and ethylene glycol. These chemicals could potentially hold a substantial value and play a large role in global markets because they can be used in plastics, polyesters and antifreeze. The sugars that are not used for these products can be used for fuel ethanol production.
Researchers at PNNL are hoping to develop similar uses for low-value byproducts resulting from other agricultural processes including rice and wheat milling, oil seed crushing and dairy processing.
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