Creative Byproduct Possibilities

From pest control to deer attractants and biocomposite materials, an Arizona company is developing a range of products to utilize an ethanol production byproduct.
By Hope Deutscher | August 10, 2009
For the past 30 years, Jeffrey Tate has carried a packet of tan powder, showing it off to researchers and business people while describing its value and opportunities. Depending on what Tate puts into the front-end process that he's working on, that tan powder can be a number of things. These days that tan powder is his company's trademarked Dried Distillers Solubles (DDS), a valuable and stable form of condensed distillers solubles (CDS) that J. Jireh Holdings LLC has found useful in feed and industrial applications.

J. Jireh Holdings, a technology and manufacturing company, was started in the early 1990s by James Rehkopf. He worked for an engineering company that developed a pulse combustion drying technology to operate more efficiently and quietly than a standard pulse combustor. The pulse combustion dryer handles and dries materials with high solids and viscosity, as well as handling abrasive and caustic materials, while using low "piece temperature" to preserve the integrity of heat sensitive materials. When the engineering company dissolved, Rehkopf acquired the pulse combustor patents and formed J. Jireh Holdings.

Meanwhile, Tate was the associate director of the Biotechnology Institute at the University of Minnesota, which was focused on various aspects of energy fermentations and ethanol fermentation. The institute bought a combustion dryer to dry fragile biological products, so Tate began exploring what one could do with a pulse combustion dryer and all the possible products that could be created using it. Today, he is the executive vice president for business development at J. Jireh Holdings.

J. Jireh Holdings consists of three distinct businesses. Pulse Combustion Systems includes the sale, fabrication and installation of pulse dryers, and develops new pulse-dried products. J. Jireh Products develops and sells premium-quality foods that take advantage of pulse-dried products, including pulse-dried instant coffee, an Agave sweetener, a

Trehalose sweetener, and a uniquely bio-available flax product. The third company, Cana BioProducts, exploits the pulse dryer's unique ability to dry CDS and thereby make it usable for three mid- to high-value applications: "green" thermoplastics substitutes, organic sustained release carrier systems, and high-value animal feed.

Using J. Jireh's pulse dryer technology, an ethanol facility can continually and efficiently convert a high volume of CDS to DDS. With a consistency of butterscotch pudding, CDS is a rich mixture that contains oligo-peptides, free amino acids, organic acids and lipids. In its liquid state, CDS has a short shelf life and can be challenging to dry using conventional drying methods, such as a carrier or spray dryer. However, using the pulse dryer technology, several value-added products have been developed from DDS.

"What we discovered was that, with a little adjustment, we could take a pulse combustion dryer and basically dry anything that comes out the back end of an ethanol plant," Tate says. "One thing we found is that we can take the chunky whole stillage that comes out of an ethanol fermentor after the ethanol has been taken out and we can dry it in one step without any centrifuges and produce a dried distillers grains with soluble (DDGS) product that is as high a quality product as is available in a single step. We were pretty excited about that."

While stillage coming out of the fermentation vessel is extremely rich in potentially valuable biochemicals, Tate says by the time money is invested in separating those into a pure form to sell them, producers may not even break even. So J. Jireh Holdings began looking at what can be economically separated to produce added profits for the ethanol producer, what was problematic, and what could be addressed using the company's pulse combustion drying technology. "And looking at it from that perspective is how we developed our DDS process," Tate says. "The CDS, a concentrated solution, was already being produced at ethanol plants. This is a product stream that is already separate. What we found and developed is operating parameters for our pulse combustion dryers that allow us to dry condensed distillers syrup. We have looked at material that is anywhere from about 20 percent solids up to 40 percent solids; we've looked at material that is produced in a conventional dry mill corn ethanol plant with no other extractions; we've looked at material from dry mill corn ethanol plants where the corn oil is extracted resulting in a reduced fat condensed distillers product that we have dried; and we've also looked at the condensed solubles that come out of a dry mill ethanol plant that's using milo or grain sorghum as a feedstock. We've looked at all of those and have produced a dry DDS product from all of those things."

Tate also found that by using DDS as a sustained release carrier system, one could take advantage of the material and chemical properties of the DDS. "When subjected to a little heat and pressure, the dried distillers solubles will polymerize and form a hard durable pellet that's still biodegradable and breaks down all the time," Tate says. "Our ability to adjust how hard those pellets are allows us to adjust how quickly they degrade and release material. So we can then put active ingredients with the condensed distillers solubles as a liquid, pulse dry it and have a completely incorporated product, pelletize it, adjust our pelleting to be a harder or softer pellet or maybe a mix of hard and soft pellets and produce a sustained release lawn and garden pest control product," Tate says. "We've developed sample products using this technology for control of slugs, snails, ants and mosquitoes. We're also working with a couple of companies in the area of nuisance animal repellent." The sustained release system can also work well to attract animals, such as deer.

In particular, Tate worked with an extension agent at Ohio State University, who has developed a laboratory bench process for testing slug control products. The active ingredient is organic and on the U.S. EPA's low risk 23B list; the DDS is a sustained release carrier that is organic qualified. "If you spray our active ingredient as a liquid it works great," he says. "It drives all the slugs out of your garden and off your plants. The first time it rains or you go out there and water your garden, the stuff is washed off. This is the case with many organic pest control products. They have a very short environmental half-life."

Tate says that using DDS as a sustained carrier in a biodegradable pellet allows the product to hold together longer and release the active ingredient into the environment as the material breaks down.

J. Jireh Holdings has also worked with a partner to develop DDS BioComposite, a biorenewable additive that can be added to thermoplastics and thermoplastic processing and can act as an effective filler. "We have put it in extrusion applications at rates of up to 50 percent, so 50 percent DDS BioComposite and 50 percent some other kind of thermoplastic, and we get some very interesting results. I'm not sure if they are commercially viable but we've gotten some very interesting results at those high inclusion rates," Tate says.

Because of the chemistry and unique formulation of the DDS BioComposite, researchers have found that by adding DDS BioComposite as a processing aid to these kinds of plastic conversions, energy requirements for the plastic processing were reduced as well as the temperature at which the plastic melted and became flowable.

"We also found that under the right conditions this material will produce a microcellular foam," Tate says. "It reduces the amount of material required to fill a mold and is extremely compatible with a broad-range of thermoplastics."

Patents are pending on these applications, for which J. Jireh Holdings has developed proof-of-concept demonstration projects. The company is now seeking a marketing partner to work with them in turning these products into commercial reality.

"We have good intellectual property on all of this and have a trademark registered for DDS," Tate says. "We have a facility in Payson, Ariz., where we have the capacity to produce up to eight tons [of DDS] per week."

Depending on what is put into the feed tanks, Tate says one can get a variety of products - from a custom-formulated feed, a sustained-release pest control product or a biorenewable thermoplastics processing aid. "I don't have to set up a separate factory to make each one of those things because of the way our pulse combustion dryer is capable of handling a variety of feeds. And that's significantly different than what goes on at most ethanol plants."

J. Jireh Holdings is currently in conversations with three different ethanol business players, discussing setting up a demonstration project, according to Tate. "Right now we are focused on where the large volume stream of solubles is coming from - and that is really from the dry corn ethanol plants," he says. "The idea is to install a dryer at an ethanol facility that has a production capacity of about 25 tons per day. In the big scheme of things, that's a fairly small production stream. On the other hand, it is enough so that we can start priming the market and getting this material out there."

Hope Deutscher is an Ethanol Producer Magazine associate editor. Reach her at hdeutscher@bbiinternational.com or (701) 373-8046.