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Potential new use for corn fiber may meet a demand
Illinois Correspondent

URBANA, Ill. — With U.S. demand for virgin activated carbon expected to expand more than 4 percent annually, researchers from the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) and the University of Illinois (UOI) are excited about the discovery of a potential new use for corn fiber, a byproduct of wet-mill ethanol production.

Typically sold as part of corn gluten feed, which is used for animal feed, corn fiber is now under study as a bio-based feedstock for producing activated carbon.

“If the process of producing activated carbon from corn fiber is commercialized, corn producers will have a larger market for their crop, and ethanol producers will have an additional revenue stream from the byproduct,” said Massoud Rostam-Abadi, ISGS principal chemical engineer, who leads a current study focusing on developing an expanded market for corn fiber.

Activated carbon is commonly used in water treatment and air purification processes.

According to the Freedonia Group, Inc., by 2008 the U.S. will consume up to 475 million pounds of virgin activated carbon per year, worth an estimated $315 million.

The average selling price for virgin activated carbon ranges from $500-$2,000 per ton. ISGS researchers say large ethanol producers such as Aventine Renewable Energy of Pekin, which processes over one million tons of corn each year, could see increased profits through an expanded corn fiber market. Illinois produces over 900 million gallons of ethanol per year.

Said to be the world’s largest granular-activated carbon producer, Calgon Carbon Corp. has expressed interest in the research. In May, representatives of the company met with ISGS researchers, officials with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board (ICMB) and Aventine to arrange for the testing of samples of corn-derived activated carbons produced through the study.

An official with the ICMB was excited about the prospect for an additional revenue source for the state’s farmers.

“This represents a meaningful way to add value to corn through the development of a new corn product,” said Bryan Fogerson, ICMB director.

Illinois’ Center for Food and Agricultural Research (C-FAR) is funding the study.

This farm news was published in the August 9, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.