A fungus that can be grown in ethanol production leftovers could help save energy, recycle more water and improve livestock feed ethanol co-products.
That is according to research done by a team from Iowa State University and published this week by Science Daily.
“The process could change ethanol production in dry-grind plants so much that energy costs can be reduced by as much as one-third,” said Hans van Leeuwen, an Iowa State professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and the leader of the research project.
Van Leeuwen and his team recently won the 2008 Grand Prize for University Research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers for their work on the project.
What they found was that a certain fungus added to the liquid leftover after ethanol processing, known as thin stillage, would feed and grow. The fungus removes about 80 percent of the organic material and all of the solids in the thin stillage, allowing the water and enzymes in the thin stillage to be recycled back into production.
The fungus can be harvested as a livestock feed supplement or it can be blended with distillers dried grains to boost its value as a livestock feed and make it more suitable for feeding hogs and chickens.
The researchers estimate that just eliminating the need to evaporate thin stillage would save ethanol plants up to $800 million a year in energy costs, while allowing more water recycling would reduce the industry’s water consumption by as much as 10 billion gallons per year.