Biofuel co-products in the United States, a resource for farming

Since 2005, the biofuel policy has led to the development of the bioethanol sector in the United States, which has been accompanied by an increase in the use of its co-products: now, the corn kernels of this sector occupy a place of choice in the ration of dairy cows. But the future of the sector depends on the debates and decisions that will come in the country on the use of electric cars.

Since US law has encouraged the production of biofuels, the use of co-products from this sector has made them a “real resource” for farming, particularly ruminants, in the United States. This is the meaning of a conference held in Space on September 15 by Marie-Anne Omnes, a specialist in agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and at the United States Embassy in Paris.

The Bush administration has indeed launched a Energy policy law in 2005, followed by a federal program (the Renewable fuels standard) which requires transportation fuels sold in the United States to contain a minimum volume of renewable fuels.

Building on a well-established and organized corn industry, ethanol production for biofuels has tripled in 15 years in Uncle Sam’s country, to reach between 15 and 20 billion gallons in 2021, “from 57 to 76 billion gallons. liters “, emphasizes Marie-Anne Omnes. And today, 98% of gasoline sold in the US contains 10% ethanol.

Evolution of biofuel production and consumption over 40 years in the USA. (© USDA)

And for good reason: “the use of a bushel of corn for bioethanol production is estimated to add 40% to its value. It is very profitable for corn producers to enter bioethanol production and contribute to the creation of refineries near their homes ”.

The growing attraction of farmers to this outlet, coupled with increasing yields and creating varieties that can adapt to areas north of the historic Corn Belt, has contributed to a strong increased corn production In the USA.

It approached 245 Mt in 2005, exceeded 330 Mt in 2010 and reached an average of 360 Mt in the last five years … of which 40% is dedicated to the production of ethanol, 30% to the industry of feed and 30% for export.

Evolution of the use of American corn since 1975
Evolution of the use of US corn since 1975 (© USDA)

An exhausted supply of corn multiplied by five in five years

However, one bushel (25.4 kg) of corn transformed into bioethanol after dry grinding also provides 7 kg of “soluble dried still beans” (DDGS). So much so that in parallel, the production of corn scum deriving from this sector has logically risen: around 7 Mt in 2005, it jumped to 35 Mt in 2010 and is now about 37 Mt.

37 Mt of which 11 Mt exported, “in 69 countries in 2020/21”, explains Marie-Anne Omnes. The rest is consumed by US cattle: “a circular economy has been established between bioethanol and feed”.

Production and destination of corn grains depleted from bioethanol production in the United States
Production and destination of used corn kernels from bioethanol production in the United States (© USDA)

Used in the feeding of cattle, pigs and some birds, and also in aquaculture, “they are rich in cereal proteins and residual yeasts, energy, minerals and vitamins”, recalls the expert. And their prices are competitive.

So that in terms of dry matter consumption, DDGS are now in first place in the ration average of US dairy cows, ahead of rapeseed and soybean meal.

The future of the sector will depend on political decisions

«They are enjoying some success, also because they have the advantage of attenuating the debate fuel versus food (using crops to produce fuel, or for food) ”, analyzes Marie-Anne Omnes.

“The production of spent grain is very much in the spotlight in the US”, he adds, before comparing: “in France, bioethanol co-products are not supported by the government and there is no no supply chain to promote them, market them, export them “. A paradox, “because bioethanol is doing very well in France given the price at the pump”.

And tomorrow ? “Sustainability, in the USA, means keeping what already exists and adapting (thanks to technology, ed) to maintain profitability. Bioethanol is a way of using an already installed, anchored, historical plant with a powerful lobby “.

A pragmatism that seems favorable to maintaining current levels of bioethanol production and the success of DDGS in farming. But beware: “American bioethanol production has reached a plateau and its future will depend on public decisions (state, national) on biofuels “, warns the expert.

For her, everything will depend on the will of the existing government to “tackle the fight against climate change” and to focus on electric cars, as is already the case in California, or, on the contrary, to maintain a vision based on gasoline … “It will be a war between electricity lobby and corn lobby! “.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News