I always like seeing new examples of innovation and improvement at first generation ethanol plants, proving that it’s not only the cellulose ethanol industry that is aiming for advanced technologies.

After writing many articles about corn-ethanol producers working to improve energy efficiency, reduce water use and implement new technologies to make their plants run better and more profitably, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m covering an industry that’s always moving forward. Not everybody realizes this.

To some people, the two words corn and ethanol put together brings up some pretty strong negative connotations. The attitude seems to be, yes, sure, the cellulosic ethanol industry is working toward some great things but won’t it be nice when we can just get rid of those awful corn ethanol plants? I’ve written about this before but it’s worth repeating. The second generation advanced ethanol industry is coming about because of work done by the first generation gran-based ethanol industry and it’s not an either/or equation. Both types of ethanol production facilities can and will coexist in the future. Here are a few examples of exciting things going on at corn-ethanol plants that we covered at our website recently.

Aemetis Advanced Fuels Keyes Inc., a 60 MMgy corn and milo ethanol plant in California, recently revealed its plans to capture and sell CO2. In real estate it’s all about location, location, location but in the ethanol industry coproduct diversification is a key to profitability. Clearly location comes into play in the ethanol industry too but here we have a destination ethanol plant making it work with new coproducts as part of the mix.

In late October, ICM Inc. announced that it had reached an agreement with Patriot Renewable Fuels LLC for engineering and design work at the 110 MMgy ethanol plant in Annawan, Illinois. Patriot’s board members will use that information to evaluate two of ICM’s patent-pending technologies, one for fiber separation and a second for cellulosic ethanol production from corn fiber, considering a possible construction start in 2015, according to an ICM press release. While it’s not finalized yet that the facility will for sure produce cellulosic ethanol from corn fiber, it’s certainly an exciting step forward!

It feels a little bit like back in the early corn oil days. First just a few innovative ethanol plants started adding corn oil extraction technology. Then we hit a tipping point where more plants jumped on the corn oil bandwagon. Today, only a small percentage of ethanol plants don’t count corn oil as a co-product. Maybe someday we’ll be in the same place with cellulosic ethanol production from corn fiber.

The last innovation I’ll highlight is Green Plains Renewable Energy’s work in the area of algae production. During the company’s third quarter earnings call in late October, Todd Becker, president and CEO, said Green Plains had recently completed some fish feed trials that had good results. He added that while algae can be used to produce many possible products, the company is focused on making sure it can be done profitably. Green Plains is definitely an example of a corn-ethanol production company that hasn’t been simply satisfied with the status quo.

I know there are many other examples of innovative work going on in the first generation industry but these are three that came up recently in news posted to our website. So today I’m taking the opportunity to pat Aemetis, Patriot Renewable Fuels and Green Plains on the back. We at Ethanol Producer Magazine are excited to continue covering these, and other projects, as they take the corn-ethanol industry closer and closer to what Feike Sijbesma, Royal DSM’s CEO and board chairman, referred to as the biorenewable age, at the grand opening ceremony of Poet-DSM's cellulosic ethanol plant co-located with a corn-ethanol plant.

source: ethanolproducer

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