October 19, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry: Part III - Ethanol Production

I get asked the question "how does a person with a PhD in beef nutrition get a job at an ethanol plant?" almost weekly.   It was a situation of being in the right place at the right time and casually chatting with the right person.  I think that I look at the ethanol plant in a totally different way as most people.  I often refer to the plant as my stainless steel cow.  The way that ethanol and distillers is made is not much different in concept than how a steer turns the corn to beef and fertilizer.  There are more similarities between and ethanol plant and a cows digestive system than you think. 

Here are a few:
Cow                                            Ethanol Plant
Teeth                                          Hammer Mill
Rumen (fermentation)               Fermenters
pH sensitive                               pH sensitive
Hot/Cold sensitive                     Hot/Cold Sensitive
Can get infections                     Can get infections
Difficult to Control                     Can be as cantankerous
                                                       as a cow

The rumen in a cow is very sensitive to pH, changes in diet, temperature, changes in microorganism species and many other variables.  The yeast in the ethanol plant are sensitive to the same changes as a cow and use fermination to create desired substrates.  While a cows rumen microorganisms produce volatile fatty acids and other substrates that are useful to the cow the yeast in the fermentation tanks digest corn starch and produce ethanol and distillers grain.  Both systems require protein, energy, the right pH and the right temperature to perform efficiently. 

I included a schematic on the process of making ethanol and distillers.

Step1 - #2 yellow dent corn is the main cereal grain used in the ethanol industry, milo and wheat can also be used but the efficiency is different.  Corn is the more economical cereal grain in the US.  Historically it was thought that ethanol plants can use damaged or off spec corn and that they are the bottom feeders of all the corn users.  They can, but it comes at an efficiency cost and a risk of introducing bacteria to the process.  Once the corn is received into the ethanol plant it is ground into a flour like texture.
Step 2 - Mash Prep - Water, urea (nitrogen source for yeast), alpha amylase (catalyst to help chemical reactions happen) and heat is added to the ground corn.  There is a flash heat process that kills the bacteria that could enter the plant and cause harm to the plant.
Step 3 - Fermentation - Processes vary between plants (batch or continuous flow) but the end result is still the same.  The yeast get to live in the slurry that was created and work their magic turning the starch into ethanol.  The part of the plant take great care and attention to detail as the yeast are sensitive to changes in their environment.
Step 4 - Distillation - This is where the ethanol is pulled out of the slurry mixture.  Steam is used to float the ethanol to the top of a large column and everything else is sent on down the line to make distillers grain and recycled water
Step - 4b - Ethanol is blended with denatured alcohol to "poison" it to prevent human consumption.  It won't kill you if you drink the blended ethanol but it will make you sick. 
Step 5 - Centerfuge - The stillage (what is left after the ethanol is removed) is run through a centerfuge that separates the solids and liquids, the solids (wet cake) are sent down the line to get the syrup added.
Step 6 - Evaporation - The liquid portion of the stillage goes through a series of evaporators and condensed down to syrup and water.  The water is sent back to the front end of the plant to be reused and the syrup is added to the wet cake.
Step 7 - The now wet distillers grain (wet cake + syrup) can either be dried, partially dried, or left wet and sold as distillers grian.

Some plants will sell some of the syrup that is not blended with the wet cake.

October 11, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry - Part II - Ethanol facts

I thought that before I get to far along in the series I would share some facts and figures about the Ethanol Industry, Beef Industry and Distillers Grain Usage.  These stats and facts are from USDA, NCGA, AMRC, ACE, several journal of animal science papers, and RFA.

- The addition of 1 ethanol plant brings -
     - approximately 700 permanent jobs in the area
     - increase state and local tax revenue by $1.2 Million/year
     - will generate approximately $19.6 million in house hold income.

- A 100 Mil Gal Plant will employ approx 50 workers
     - Ave Annual Salaries range from $25K (general labor) to over $150K (plant manager)
     - most positions pay between $35-60K/year

- Ethanol Industry employs approx 400,000 people (directly and indirectly)

- 1 Bushel of corn produces 2.8 gallons of Ethanol and 17.5 lbs of Dried Distiller Grain (or 45.5 lbs of wet distillers grain)

- 2010 - Corn Usage
     - 38.7% Feed
     - 36.5% Ethanol (which 12-15% will come back as DDGS for feed)
     - 14.5% Export
     - 3.8% High Fructose Corn Syrup
     - 6.5% Other

- 2010 - 13.5 Million Gallon Operation Capacity in the US
     - 2009/2010 - 38.8 million tons of distillers produced
           - Replaced 694 million bu of corn
     - 2010-2011 - projected to produce 42.6 million tons
          - Replaced  842 million bu of corn (projected)

- Beef Industry fed 16.07 million tons of distillers grain in 2009-2010 and is projected to feed 17.66 million tons of dry distillers grain in 2010-2011

- Total Corn Replacement (domestic and export) by Distiller Grain
     - 2009/2010 - 1.05 Billion Bu
     - 2010/2011 (projected) - 1.2 Billion Bu

- US Cow herd is and has been declining since 1996 - 2.9 mil less head since 2007, and 9.8 million less head since 1996. - So do we really need as many bu of corn as we did before the "Ethanol Boom"???

- Cost of shipping 1 pound of protein 400 miles - Distillers Grain vs. Alfalfa Hay
Assumptions - DDGS - 28.5% CP (DM basis) Good Alfalfa 18% CP (DM basis)
Freight - 54000 lbs of DDGS or Alfalfa at a cost of $1.95/running mile
    - 1 truck load = $780/load in freight charges
         1 truck ld of DDG = 13,851 lbs of CP = $0.06/lb of CP freight charge
         1 truck ld of Alfalfa = 8,748 lbs of CP = $0.09/lb of CP freight charge

Next topic will start into the process of making Ethanol and Distillers Grain!! 

October 7, 2011

Farm Foto Friday

I love the colors of fall, I would love them more if
winter colors didn't show up so soon after

Tekan loves to look over my shoulder when the
 4 wheeler starts to move. 

Corn is turning golden and will soon be harvested.

Tekan was trying to lick my nose and cuddle with me
 while I was taking her picture!! 

October 6, 2011

Ethanol Industry vs Cattle Industry - Part I -Introduction to My Opinion

Now that weaning is over.  I have decided to start a new series on a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  Inspired to come out a little earlier than I originally anticipated.  I was going to start on a series on harvesting as the combines are running hard right now but that will have to wait. 

I am very passionate and 100% certain that the expansion of the Ethanol Industry is NOT 100% bad for cattle producers and it is NOT the SOLE reason why our feed costs have gone higher in recent years along with the cost of everything else (groceries, fuel, cloths, fertilzer, other ag chemicals).  There is a dynamic around these price increases that is greater than I even grasp.  I am passionate about the expansion of the ethanol industry for many reason.  Maybe the 1st and most important is I am an employ of the ethanol industry and that off farm income helps us pay the house hold bills at our farm.  We are in an economy where jobs are hard to find and the ethanol industry has increased the number of jobs for Americans and they pay a very competitive wage at all levels of employment.  Not to mention most of these jobs can not be out sourced (someone has to be in America to fix a broken pump or motor).  I got my graduate degrees from the University of Nebraska which is 1 of the leading Land Grant Universities in distiller grain research in the beef industry.  We are also a users of distiller grain at our farm and have seen the benefits it brings to my farm as well as my customers for cow, calf, and feedlot diets not just economically but overall herd health.  So I have a lot of ties to distillers grain (no wonder I might be a little bias in my opinion) and if we lost the ethanol industry I am not sure what feed source we would find to replace it.  Please keep in mind these are my opions and beliefs backed up by research, first had experience with feeding distillers, close out numbers from our farm and some of my customers, and feed back from my customers.

Wet Distillers Grain

My plan for this series it to talk about how the ethanol plant turns corn into both ethanol and distillers grain, what is distillers grain and the different forms/types, the benefits to the diet of cattle, what it has done to our herd since we started using it, get some feed back from other producers who use it (I have access to lots of them) both long time users and new users.  I might even talk to some corn farmers that sell corn to ethanol plants and get their opinion on what it has done for their business.

Dry Distillers Grain

Because I know the bottom line might be the most important part to some of you readers.  Here is a sneak peak at some feeding economics!!  More details to come later!
This is the cost/cow/day, feeding to provide 1/4 of supplemental protein.  I included the cost of the supplemental protein source, and the cost of hauling these feeds 100 miles to the ranch (doesn't include mineral or forage) exept for the DDG pellet the closest place to get it is about 70 miles further away, the others I can pick up within a 10 mile radius.  I want to be fair and the extra hauling on 1 product is a real cost that needs to be included (the extra 70 miles added 1 cent/cow/day).  I priced all of them today.
DDGS Meal (dry distillers grain) - $0.11
DDGS Pellet (80% DDG 20% Soy Hull) - $0.13
Corn (ground) - $0.29
Range Cubes (30% CP) - $0.15

Compare the cost for 100 cows for 60 days:
DDGS Meal - $660
DDGS Pellet - $780
Corn - $1740 
Range Cube - $900

Feeding DDGS meal is 38% less $$ than corn.  Next post will start at the beginging of the process!

Grinding Hay

Grinding hay is typically 1 of those jobs that magically gets done while I am at my day job.  I leave for work in the morning with a stack of hay bales in the yard near where the ground hay pile is located and when I return "hokus pokus" those bales were turned into a big pile of ground up hay.  It really isn't magic, it is usually Mark's job to take care of that project. 
The only good pic I got grinding.  We had to pause to make
sure things were still OK.  He has the tub raised and checking things out
under it.
We like to schedule the company that grinds our hay to come out when ever they grind for Mark's boss.  We are only 5 miles away, so that saves the company a special trip out our way and Mark can follow the crew to our place so he knows exactly what time they will be there.  No wasted time sitting around waiting on them to show up.  It is a great system and increases our time efficiency.  I got a call Monday afternoon from the company that said that they were grinding tomorrow at Mark's boss' at 8 am and would be to our place after that (about 9 am).  Ok no problem until I called Mark, he said that he can't be there cuz the boss scheduled him to pick up a load of cattle from a neighbor and haul them to the sale barn and he has to be there to load the semi at 9 am. 

I locked the calves in the barn so they
were out of the dust while we ground. 
They are begging me to let them out!
So I was stuck tending to the grinder.  We stack hay on both sides where the grinder will park, but have to move most of them closer as he gets the ones he can reach with his big grapple.  Grinding goes pretty fast and you have to be quick and efficient with the tractor and loader.  I am Ok at running them, when no body is watching and I don't have to be "fast like a bunny" (a saying my dad always said when he wanted something done yesterday).  I got home, grinder got there on time, got set up and I told him I was a "first timer" and if he didn't like where I was putting the bales to let me know.  We grind for about 1 hr which is about 50-60 bales.  I am pretty sure that the grinder guy got a good laugh.  Our tractor seat doesn't adjust easily and I am not very big.  So when I push both the clutch and brake in at the same time my butt comes off the seat and then I have to kind of stand on them to the the tractor to stop.  Then I have to reach for the leavers that run the loader bucket, and to top it off because I am out of the office my cell phone rings constantly.  The guy running the grinder got to see a good show, I was bouncing all over the cab of the tractor, 1 hand on the steering wheel, 1 hand to run both loader bucket leavers, and my cell phone stuck between my ear and shoulder.  Not to mention at 1 point in time I tried to get some pictures of the process for the blog...they were a big blur...  But all the hay got ground, and he didn't have to wait on me and I did a pretty darn good job cleaning up all the loose hay.  Mark did get a good laugh when I told him how things went down.  I told him next time it is ALL HIM!!!