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BETTER CORN: Enogen technology increases ethanol production efficiency

Farmers in the area will grow an industrial-quality corn specifically designed for the ethanol industry this summer. Corn with the Enogen technology is genetically modified to produce the alpha amylase enzyme that improves efficiency in corn-base...

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Area corn producers attend a meeting Wednesday in Jamestown. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Farmers in the area will grow an industrial-quality corn specifically designed for the ethanol industry this summer. Corn with the Enogen technology is genetically modified to produce the alpha amylase enzyme that improves efficiency in corn-based ethanol plants, said Marcos Castro, Enogen market manager for Syngenta. “The grower becomes the enzyme provider for the ethanol plant,” he said. “Enogen corn contains more alpha amylase than any other corn. The (ethanol) plant does not have to add any enzymes. It makes the corn mash more liquid, and it saves energy.”

Converting corn into ethanol is a two-stage process. Enzymes are used to convert the starch in the corn into sugar. Yeast then converts the sugar into alcohol.

Previously, enzymes were added to the mix at the ethanol plant, said Phil Coffin, vice president, commodities and marketing, for Midwest AgEnergy, parent company of Dakota Spirit AgEnergy at Spiritwood.

Those enzymes can now be bought from local farmers who grow the Enogen corn, he said.

“We’ll pay a 40-cent-a-bushel premium to grow this,” he said. “That brings some of the benefits back to the farmers.”

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Castro agreed Enogen would increase local farm revenues.

“It shifts the value of the enzyme from a chemical company to the grower,” he said.

Along with saving the ethanol plant the cost of purchasing the enzyme, adding Enogen corn makes the mash more liquid, reducing the water and energy needs for producing ethanol.

Castro said corn with the Enogen technology is not considered a commodity corn and must be grown by a farmer with a contract to deliver the corn. Farmers must also agree to specific farm practices.

“This is an identitypreserved crop,” he said. “The farmer needs to track where they plant the crop and there must be buffer zones around the crop. They must clean all equipment after handling (the Enogen corn) and store the corn separately.”

According to a 2013 report by Peter Thomison, professor at Ohio State University, School of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, members of the North American Millers Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other groups opposed the approval of Enogen when the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the corn in 2011.

Those organizations warned that mixing Enogen corn into the food supply could adversely impact food quality including crumbling corn chips caused by starch breakdown, Thomison wrote.

“The enzyme breaks down starch,” Castro said. “That’s what it’s designed to do for the ethanol plants. Other users want the starch in the corn. We need to make sure Enogen doesn’t affect those products.”

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Enogen corn has been grown in earlier pilot projects in several states including South Dakota since 2011. It has not previously been grown in North Dakota.

For 2017, the pilot project has been expanded to 24 ethanol plants across the United States including three in North Dakota: Dakota Spirit AgEnergy at Spiritwood, Blue Flint Ethanol at Underwood and Tharaldson Ethanol in Casselton, Castro said.

“That amounts to $34 million (nationally) in grower premiums,” he said. “That could make or break some farmers in 2017.”

knorman@jamestownsun.com

(701) 952-8452

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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