Models Help Guide Ethanol Production Research
By Jim Core
July 12, 2004
Agricultural Research Service scientists
are demonstrating that they can reduce ethanol fuel production costs by
developing less expensive techniques for milling the corn used to make the
Computers are playing a key role in this research at the ARS Eastern
Regional Research Center (ERRC), in
Wyndmoor, Pa., where scientists have completed several computer research models
for performing cost analyses for ethanol production.
One model can estimate the cost per gallon to produce ethanol with various
processes, according to Andy McAloon, head cost engineer with the ERRC's
Crop Conversion Science and Engineering
Unit. He and chemical engineer Winnie Yee help researchers at ERRC create
computer models that predict the costs of possible alternatives to standard
One model helps estimate costs for making ethanol by dry-grind processes, in
which corn kernels are converted into ethanol without salvaging fiber, germ
(oil) and protein. ERRC chemical engineer Frank Taylor worked with McAloon and
Yee to update a 25-million-gallon-a-year model for dry-grind ethanol production
to a 40-million-gallon version, the size of most new plants.
The model can examine a number of possibilities, such as developing new
processes to reclaim waste heat, or to convert some of the fiber to ethanol.
The model also will predict how these steps would affect the cost of making a
gallon of ethanol.
In addition to dry-grind models, ERRC food technologist David Johnston
worked with the other ARS scientists to create what they believe will be the
first publicly available corn wet milling process and cost model. Wet milling
involves separating components from starch before using it for ethanol
production. Developed in cooperation with the Corn Refiners Association and the
University of Illinois, the model will
be used to improve an ERRC wet milling process using unique enzymes. This
process requires much less sulfur dioxide during the steeping stage of wet
milling than traditional wet milling.
more about this research in Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.