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Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center receives $3.5 million gift

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Posted: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 9:00 am

SIUE’s Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center added a corn fractionation system to its distinctive facility Friday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The system, donated by Cereal Process Technologies, is designed to make more use of a single kernel of corn. 

Larry Hasheider, Illinois Corn Marketing Board director for district 14, said about five billion bushels of corn are used for ethanol production and about one-third of that is returned to livestock. With the new fractionation system, Hasheider said an additional 2 billion gallons of ethanol can be produced by removing the outside edge of corn kernels.

“[This is a] great step for this country, for our independence in fuel [and] from farm resources,” Hasheider said.

Most plants are duplicated on the dry grind process, according to Rod Bothast, founding director of the Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center.

“They take whole corn and grind it up and you produce ethanol, carbon dioxide and animal feed products distilled of dried grains,” Bothast said.

Bothast said there was interest in stretching the production of the amount of ethanol that could be produced from a bushel of corn.

“To do that, that means you take some of the fiber or the code of the kernel and convert that to ethanol as well,” Bothast said.

CERC Director John Caupert said the addition opens a variety of opportunities for the research center.

“It certainly opens up our opportunity to perform work related to what folks describe as cellulosic ethanol, or in other words making a fuel out of something other than starch,” Caupert said.

Bothast said there has never been a center like the CERC built “in the United States on a campus such as [SIUE],” and there are challenges in finding ways to maintain and operate the facility.

“We’ve come a long way from day one when the ground was broke here,” Bothast said. “They’ll keep on working and hopefully this new technology will help increase ethanol production in the United States because we certainly need alternatives to oil and this is one of them.”


Receiving the corn fractionation system

Caupert said a technical advisory committee was named in 2008 and made up of experts from industry, academia, government and trade to assist in moving the facility forward in biofuels. From that committee, there was a recommendation to incorporate a corn fractionation system into the facility.

Caupert said they solicited the private sector for gifts and approached the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the form of a grant. 

“That’s where the dollars came from, it was a combination of capital grant dollars from the state of Illinois and the physical assets through Cereal Process Technology,” Caupert said.

The capital grant dollars went toward retro-fitting the facility and installing the equipment or what Caupert called “a redesign of the facility.”

Caupert said the CERC is “hardly even the same facility” now compared to what it was when it was first built.

“The four outer walls are the same,” Caupert said. “Other than that it’s a completely different entity.”


Benefit to students

Students also have the opportunity to benefit from the facility, according to Caupert, as there are between four to six graduate students on staff performing hands-on applied research under the supervision of the professional staff.

When Bothast came to the center it was in its early stages, but he said students were hired as soon as they could implement a plan.

“I’m only seeing it from afar, but it’s a great opportunity for students to get hands-on experience and with the ethanol business growing so rapidly in the last 10 years, there’s been jobs in the field as well for that,” Bothast said.

Joe Meade, a professional science graduate student at SIU Carbondale, is one of the graduate students working at the CERC. Meade works in operations, making sure the plant runs smoothly.

“The research, for the most part, is left up to the people who work in the analytical lab and the fermentation lab,” Meade said. “We do have some research engineers here, but I tend not to work directly with them too much.”

Meade said the fractionation system is more of a supplement than a replacement.

“The old way, the dry grind system, was not inefficient,” Meade said, “but the fraction system... [is] a huge benefit to the industry, especially in times like these.”

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