FEW: Soybean hulls can be ethanol feedstock

By Kris Bevill | June 02, 2008
Web exclusive posted June 17, 2008 at 9:21 p.m. CST

The more the price of corn rises, the more producers and investors want to talk about alternatives. One of the breakout sessions at the International Fuel Ethanol Workshop & Expo addressed that very topic June 17. More than 100 people attended the session in order to learn more about some of the intriguing options now becoming available for ethanol production in the United States.

Jonathan Mielenz, biomass program manager for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, delivered an insightful look into the possibility of soybean hulls as a feedstock. He has been experimenting with this feedstock in the laboratory and has come to the conclusion that soybean hulls can be used to not only produce ethanol, but also to still be used as a high-protein animal feed.

As soybean processors know, soybean hulls have historically been destined for animal feed simply because it has been the only way to dispose of the product. Mielenz used a simultaneous scarification and fermentation process in his experiments, and discovered that pretreatment doesn't make a difference in production levels, thereby potentially saving the producer 18 percent in production costs. Mielenz assured session attendees that the fermentation portion of production is simple, and the end result is both ethanol and a high-protein, low lignin animal feed.

Mielenz has determined that by utilizing his method, if soybean hulls were put into production as a feedstock nationwide, the United States could produce an additional 300 million gallons of ethanol each year and 1.4 million tons of animal feed.