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Anthony L. Pometto III, Hans van Leeuwen and Mary Rasmussen (left to right) are the prize winning research team from the Iowa State University that came up with the new fungi method. Also contributing but not pictured is Samir Khanal, a former Iowa State research assistant professor, currently at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa.  (Source: Iowa State University, Bob Elbert)
New myco-technology promises to lower production costs by as much as third.

Ethanol production has been blasted by everyone from academia to the UN for its undesirable effect of raising food crop prices.  However, while researchers try to develop new production methods that don't use sugar crops; the current infrastructure chugs along producing more and more corn based ethanol daily.  Barring a dramatic change of course, it seems unlikely that the growth of corn ethanol will stop in the short term.

Thus, while it may not be the best solution, technology such as a new fungal improvement to processing developed by Iowa State still do some good.  The new research was also assisted by researchers at the University of Hawai'i.  It involves growing fungi in leftovers of ethanol production.  The process saves energy, helps recycle more water, and produces higher quality livestock feed, which is a byproduct of the processing.

Hans van Leeuwen, an Iowa State professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and the leader of the research project states, "The process could change ethanol production in dry-grind plants so much that energy costs can be reduced by as much as one-third."

The rest of the Leeuwen's team is comprised of Anthony L. Pometto III, a professor of food science and human nutrition; Mary Rasmussen, a graduate student in environmental engineering and bio-renewable resources and technology; and Samir Khanal, a former Iowa State research assistant professor who currently is an assistant professor of molecular biosciences and bioengineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  The team won the 2008 Grand Prize for University Research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers for the research.

The prize was awarded based on merit of research in environmental fields.  The AAEE describes the selection process thusly: "Those chosen for prizes by an independent panel of distinguished experts address the broad range of modern challenges inherent in providing life-nurturing services for humans and protection of the environment.  ... Their innovations and performance illustrate the essential role of environmental engineers in providing a healthy planet."

The Iowa research seeks to fine tune dry-grind ethanol production.  In this type of production, raw corn is ground and then water and enzymes are added.  The enzymes act to break down the corn's starch, into sugars, which are processed by added yeast.  The yeast produces the end product -- ethanol -- through fermentation.  Distillation follows to harvest the ethanol.

For every gallon of fuel recovered, there are approximately six gallons of waste known as stillage.  The brothy waste is rich in organic solids and other organic compounds.  These compounds are harvested by centrifugation and dried; yielding livestock feed known as distillers dried grains.

The leftover stillage contains some smaller solids.  This type of stillage is known as thin stillage.  Typically only a small percentage of this stillage, which contains valuable water and enzymes, can be reused in the production process.  The rest is evaporated and the leftovers are mixed with distillers dried grains to form distillers dried grains with solubles.  The downside is that water and expensive enzymes are lost in the process.

The researchers mixed in a special fungus, Rhizopus microsporus, into the thin stillage.  The fungus thrived off the organic material and was found to remove 80 percent of the organic material from the water, allowing much more of the thin stillage (and thus the water and enzymes) to be recycled.

The leftover fungus hold superior nutrition value and can be harvested for livestock feed.  It’s loaded with protein, amino acids, and other nutrients.  It can be sold as a supplement individually or sold blended with distillers dried grains for a higher rate.  Such feed is suitable for animals like hogs and chickens, which typical distillers dried grains are not as good for.

With the current infrastructure Leeuwen states that the elimination of evaporation of thin stillage would result in a cost savings of $800M yearly.  Furthermore, the process would save $60M per year in enzymes and would reduce the industry's water load by 10B gallons per year.  And there would be more profit, with the nutrient rich fungi feed bringing in almost $400M more yearly.  The overall energy balance of production (and thus efficiency) would also be improved by lowering the inputs needed.

You don't find many investments like this -- the process could be implemented for only $11M in a plant that produces 100M gallons yearly, and it would pay for itself within six months.

The project is funded by grants of $78,806 from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state economic development program, and $80,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Iowa Biotechnology Byproducts Consortium.

The researchers have filed for a patent on the new method and are currently looking for investors to help bring it to market.  The bottom line Professor Pometto says is getting the technology out there as fast as possible and improving the struggling industry.  He states, "We will be saving ethanol producers money and energy.  That's the bottom line."

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RE: No Wonder American beef tastes like rat
By Spuke on 5/28/2008 2:26:04 PM , Rating: 1
Strange how people use random facts to prove their bias.
Random, yes. Facts? Not on your life. His experience is PURELY anecdotal.

RE: No Wonder American beef tastes like rat
By phxfreddy on 5/28/2008 2:36:07 PM , Rating: 2
Yah like people who have not had Brazilian beef...or Argentine beef. All the expats down here say the same thing about the beef versus the USA stuff.

Its kind of funny how alergic you guys are to this topic. It was stated simply as a fact that completely obvious as the hand in front of your face type of talking.

Lets see a true show of many have been in Argentina or Brazil?

By Spuke on 5/28/2008 3:05:33 PM , Rating: 2
I've been in Brazil but that's really irrelevant. And you haven't stated ANY facts as taste is subjective. Have you eaten at Lawry's in LA? Let me see YOUR hand.

RE: No Wonder American beef tastes like rat
By 67STANG on 5/28/2008 3:19:13 PM , Rating: 2
Not 100% sure, but I'm assuming there are no Buffalo in Brazil? Go to Montana and order a Buffalo filet. Your Brazil beef will taste like deep-fried cardboard in comparison.

RE: No Wonder American beef tastes like rat
By omnicronx on 5/28/2008 4:33:57 PM , Rating: 1
There are no Buffalo in North America either ;) I think you mean Bison ;)

By threepac3 on 5/28/2008 5:36:35 PM , Rating: 2
Believe it or not some parts of United States call them Buffaloes.

By callmeroy on 5/28/2008 3:25:41 PM , Rating: 2
Dude....taste can NEVER be a fact though! LOL

Taste is completely a matter of opinion that's what you don't get....

Maybe brazilian beef is mouth watering and incredibly delicious -- it still doesn't MEAN its FACT that its better, someone in the states could go down to Brazil and *gasp* say "Well I still like the Steak at [they name their favorite hometown restaurant] better, but this is also very good".

FACT can only be proven and since no one can PROVE another person's personal TASTE ....your FACT thing is BS.

By Alexstarfire on 5/28/2008 10:46:47 PM , Rating: 2
But that's like saying you know beef sucks because you had a t-bone at Waffle House at 3AM. It's not going to be the same thing as eating at a nice restaurant that really knows how to cook them. And BTW, Longhorns and Outback don't count either. They are good, but they certainly aren't top notch. Same thing about buying a steak at Wal-Mart. It's not going to be the best either.

Though, I'd love to try some Brazilian or Argentinian beef. I think that'd be a little expensive for me though.

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