Distillers coproducts continue to evolve

June 2015: Several years back it was asked if everything that could be done with distillers grains was done. It is amazing how innovation continues to percolate through the industry and distillers coproducts continue to evolve, as do the industries that produce as well as consume them.

In terms of markets and economics, quality and consistency is still critical for the industry. Beef and dairy cattle still consume the lion’s share of distillers coproducts in US, and the new USDA coproducts survey has been a very useful tool so far. Surprisingly, almost one-third of ethanol coproducts in the U.S. are marketed as wet feeds. More important to coproduct values, however, is the international export market. In recent years, China has become the primary importer of DDGS. Due to this demand, the sales price of DDGS was actually higher than that of corn in recent years.
Livestock nutritionists and researchers have endeavored to understand how best to use these new coproducts vis-a-vis traditional distillers grains. It is clear that the livestock industry has progressed significantly, and lower-oil coproducts are becoming well-understood via many ongoing feeding trials. Not only do distillers grains offer price advantages compared to other ingredients, but they also offer nutritional and digestibility benefits as well. And greater inclusion levels are seen.
New processes and new coproducts provide valuable insights on the approaches to process innovation and next-generation coproducts that are being commercialized. These are primarily high-protein feed ingredients, and arise from upstream separations, not fractionation from the DDGS. How much more will livestock producers be willing to pay for these new ingredients?
Not only does fractionation allow ethanol plants to get truer nutrient values for DDGS, but so does integration of ethanol plants with livestock feeding operations.
Coproducts are continuing to change in both physical and nutrient properties. The true value of the non-fermentable materials in ethanol plants are becoming clear not only to the ethanol plants, but also to the livestock producers as well as affiliated industries. As the industry becomes more globalized due to exports (of both the DDGS and ethanol), the market values may subject to unanticipated shifts.
The latest and greatest issues impacting distillers grains production and use was discussed at the recent Distillers Grains Technology Council’s 19th Distillers Grains Symposium in Kansas City.

Kurt A. Rosentrater
Executive Director, Distillers Grains
Technology Council Iowa State University