Finding New Uses of Field Corn: A Versatile, Abundant, Sustainably Viable Industrial Feedstock
U.S. corn represents a sustainably produced, economically competitive, and extremely flexible feedstock for bioproducts. U.S. corn farmers continue to adopt new innovative production practices. As a result, their production efficiency continues to improve year-over-year, producing more with less. However, these advances now support production that greatly exceeds annual U.S. corn demand. Additionally, new technologies are being deployed that will provide clean product streams (sugar, lipid, proteins) as feedstocks for processes. At the same time, consumers worldwide continue to demand additional bio-based products. This confluence of available corn-based feedstocks and consumer demand represents an extremely exciting opportunity for stakeholders in the sustainable bio-materials industry.
At the end of the 2018/2019 market year, there were over 2.2 billion bushels of U.S. corn ending stocks. Since 2000, corn production is up 4.7 billion bushels, average yields have grown by nearly 40 bushels/acre, U.S. total corn production is up 45% and corn yields have increased by 29%.
This is why finding new uses of corn continues to be a priority of NCGA. The Consider Corn Challenge contest is an important part of our new uses program as it drives awareness of the enormous potential U.S. corn can contribute to the bio-based products industry. The contest publicly highlights innovative, cutting edge organizations that have recognized the potential of corn-based products in their operations and are on the path to commercialization with products that have the potential to grind large amounts of corn. For example, if the winners of the Consider Corn Challenge I & II all reached full market commercialization with their product, the potential new corn demand would be equivalent to 2.9 billion bushels.
Read testimonials from the first round of winners of the first Consider Corn Challenge
NCGA’s Consider Corn Challenge offers not only support for ongoing research through the grant money, but also provides intangible benefits such as access to media attention through news releases, radio interviews, and other consumer and ag visibility. NCGA’s network in media relations, federal government, state governments, and the corn industry is a huge benefit as a part of the contest which can be used to remove barriers to your commercialization. I would encourage anyone with a new use idea from field corn to take part in the contest.
- Iowa Corn Promotion Board
The consider corn challenge had an efficient application process and it allows companies to fully communicate their strengths. The contest is a great opportunity for small chemical development companies to publicize their company and technology. Being an Austrian based company, we can confirm that it is truly a global competition. Annikki had not publicized its technology prior to the contest. When we saw the consider corn challenge with a $25,000 prize we decided to start publicizing our chemical process. After receiving the award, we received investment offers and were contacted by companies wishing to partner in off-take agreements.
We saw this contest as a wonderful opportunity to showcase our technology and share the true vision we have in our technology that it will expand renewable fuels and ultimately increase corn demand.
The largest benefits of the contest were a combination of networking and disseminating what our technology offers ethanol producers. NCGA introduced us to ethanol producers which has been fantastic, we receive inquiries after being recognized as one of the winners of the contest, and our technology/vision has been disseminated for producers to ponder.
Profiles of the first Consider Corn Challenge Winner Proposals
NCGA selected six winners focused on developing biosourced materials from corn such as malonic acid, furandicarboxylic acid, monoethylene glycol, aromatic chemicals (benzene, toluene, xylene), and unsaturated polyester resins. These chemicals offer great potential as starting materials for biobased plastics, coolants, adhesives, etc. used in a wide variety of products.
The Berkley, California, company is producing Bio-Malonic acid (Bio-MA) from renewable sugars using cutting edge biotechnology. It is used today in diverse markets, including high-tech composites and coatings, electronics, flavors & fragrances, and pharmaceuticals. Traditionally Malonic Acid is currently made in China from petroleum, through an expensive process that employs hazardous chemicals. Lygos’ system uses non-toxic chemicals and mild conditions resulting in an environmentally friendly process with superior economics that can be deployed in the U.S.
Technology to produce FDCA (furandicarboxylic acid), a replacement for petroleum-derived terephthalic acid for plastic bottles, fibers, and nylons was the winning entry from the Chicago, Ill. company. FDCA is a versatile bio-advantaged molecule with the potential to replace 100 million tons of petrochemicals. FDCA is not only 100 percent renewable, it also provides superior performance properties. This allows plastic soda bottles to be lighter, use less energy in manufacturing and extend the shelf life for carbonated products.
Iowa Corn Promotion Board
This technology developed by Iowa corn farmers, is for the production of MEG (monoethylene glycol). MEG has a range of diverse applications from coolants and heat transfer fluid to packaging material. Today, many major consumer products groups are searching for ways to reduce their packaging’s environmental footprint and Iowa Corn’s bio-renewable MEG may be the answer. Millions of tons are produced annually with a value estimated to be more than $25 billion.
Vertimass of Irvine, California, is seeking to produce aromatic chemicals using renewable corn ethanol to replace petrochemicals. The markets they are targeting are very large: tens of millions of tons, and a value in excess of $100 billion annually. This process represents a potentially very large new market, diversifying opportunities for ethanol plants and increasing corn utilization.
Sasya, of Maple Grove, Minnesota, is producing methylmalonic acid which can compete in methyl methacrylate markets for making acrylic glass, and adhesives. The methyl methacrylate market is estimated to be 5 million metric tons and is worth more than $7 billion.
South Dakotas State University
SDSU’s efforts are focused using renewable precursors such as glycerol and lactic acid to make unsaturated polyester resins (UPRs). Today, UPRs are used to make large plastic tanks, as a binder in fiber glass sheets and other reinforced plastics.
Consider Corn Challenge Winners In The News