Ethanol Co-products

Once considered merely “byproducts” of ethanol production, distillers grains and other valuable components of the global animal feed market are today considered true “co-products” of renewable fuel production—and a vital contributor to the industry’s bottom line

Sophisticated grain ethanol production facilities have been utilizing engineering and design enhancements, new process technologies, automation upgrades, and other advances to make remarkable gains in efficiency to extract more out of each bushel of corn. On average, one bushel of corn processed by a dry mill ethanol plant can now produce:

  • 2.92 gallons denatured fuel ethanol
  • 15.86 pounds of distillers grains animal feed (10% moisture)
  • 0.80 pounds of corn distillers oil for animal feed and biodiesel production
  • 16.5 pounds of biogenic carbon dioxide for food, beverage and chemical manufacturing

In 2019, U.S. ethanol producers generated 39.6 million metric tons (mmt) of distillers grains, gluten feed and gluten meal. These bio-products are valuable corn and soybean meal substitutes in rations used around the world to feed beef and dairy cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, fish and other animals. In addition, ethanol plants extracted 3.8 billion pounds of corn distillers oil – a nearly $1 billion market underpinning the production of biodiesel and animal feed.

Now fully under the regulatory oversight of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, ethanol plants are required to comply with preventive controls requirements as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

This federal rule requires covered facilities to follow current good manufacturing practices for animal food production and have a written food safety plan that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based controls. These preventive controls provide a formal assurance to buyers around the world that American ethanol co-products continue to be safe feed ingredients.

U.S. ethanol producers also captured 5.8 billion pounds of high-grade biogenic CO₂ in 2019 for North American food/beverage and industrial markets. Further, the industry is actively engaged in promoting the groundbreaking deployment of carbon capture and sequestration in a pivotal step toward fighting climate change.

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Ethanol Industry Co-product Animal Feed Output

wdt_ID Year Million Metric Tons (mmt)
30 2008 22.59
31 2009 27.12
32 2010 33.04
33 2011 34.21
34 2012 32.06
35 2013 32.34
36 2014 34.80
37 2015 35.52
38 2016 36.21
39 2017 37.05

Source: RFA and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

U.S. Distillers Grains Exports

U.S. biorefineries satisfied growing domestic animal food needs while also exporting at least one of every four tons of distillers grains produced. Broadened educational and B2B outreach helped to grow the U.S. bio-product customer base into the most diverse mix in our industry’s history.

In 2019, 53 countries purchased a cumulative 10.9 mmt of U.S. distillers grains. Half of these exports landed in Southeast and East Asia, despite China’s decision in June to maintain anti-dumping and anti-subsidy tariffs on U.S. distillers grains imports. Another quarter of sales were transborder shipments, with Mexico extending its position as our top distillers grains customer for a third consecutive year.

The Renewable Fuels Association anticipates that mounting demand and geographic diversity lie ahead as countries around the globe embrace the use of these safe and economical ethanol bio-products.

Related RFA Publications

Read Fueling a Nation, Feeding The World