February 3, 2016

Learning About Ethanol


There’s no doubt that corn is one of the world’s most a-maize-ing crops!  It has so many uses that benefit people all around the world.  Over the next few weeks, we will feature a new blog series called, “For the Love of Corn”, where we will look at the six different high-value corn product categories and how they are used.

This week, we will take a look at the high-value corn product category, Ethanol!

Henry Ford first suggested running cars on ethanol made from corn in the early 1900’s, but it took the oil shortages of the 1970’s and the environmental problems of the 1980’s to turn ethanol into an important component in the American fuel supply. Now, over the last three decades, ethanol made from corn has become an important fuel in Nebraska and across the country. Biofuels like corn-based ethanol directly replace petroleum-based fuels – and they’re renewable! Ethanol is better for the environment, helps keep fuel dollars here at home and it supports rural communities—because that’s where most ethanol plants are located.

In Nebraska, ethanol plants have a capacity of more than 2.0 billion gallons – making Nebraska the second-largest ethanol producing state in the country. They use about 700 million bushels of corn annually – and directly provide and support thousands of jobs. Since ethanol is made only from the starch in a kernel of corn, these ethanol plants also produce more than 6 million tons of distillers’ grains annually. On a national level, fuel ethanol production capacity has passed 13.0 billion gallons at more than 200 facilities.

Ethanol has been the fuel choice of most drivers in Nebraska – with market share reaching 70 percent beginning in 2007. Although E10 (10 percent ethanol blend) is common throughout Nebraska – and across the country – the use of E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent regular unleaded gasoline) and other blends, such as E15 & E30, is continuing to grow, thanks to continued sales of flex fuel vehicles.

So how is it made?  Ethanol is made by fermenting sugars produced from corn starch. Many ethanol plants produce both ethanol and other corn products - like starches and sweeteners so that capital and manufacturing costs can be kept as low as possible. While they are making ethanol, ethanol plants also produce valuable coproducts such as corn oil and corn gluten feed.

Below is an infographic that further explains the production process at an ethanol plant!

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