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Illinois corn checkoff creating for-profit technology company
Illinois Correspondent

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A new for-profit corporation created by the Illinois Corn Growers Assoc., with assistance from the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, will work to increase the number of high value co-products related to ethanol production for commercial purposes.

“This technology will enable dry-grind ethanol plants to produce up to three new products - corn oil, zein protein and xanthophylls - without adding additional raw materials to their plant,” said Philip Shane, president of the newly founded Prairie Gold, Inc. “The goal is to make ethanol production more economical and cost effective and (to) maximize the potential of one of Illinois greatest assets - corn.”

Shane said the potentially valuable co-products targeted by Prairie Gold are currently lost in the distillers’ dried grains (DDGs) process. DDGs are a lower-valued ethanol by-product used for feed purposes.

“Corn oil is high-quality food oil that would be used by the food industry. The xanthophylls are for pharmaceutical use, potentially for the reduction of macular degeneration of the eyes, since the xanthophylls contain lutein and zeaxanthin.

“The zein has multiple uses (including for) biodegradable plastic, shellac replacement, encapsulation of medicine, textile fiber, and mulches for the horticulture industry, to name a few,” Shane explained, adding that a dry-grind ethanol plant could increase its revenue “substantially” if the components are separated and purified.

Prairie Gold is employing technology licensed from the University of Illinois (UOI) in order to develop and commercialize ethanol co-product processes and production. The company is contracting the services of several central Illinois laboratories including the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research lab in Peoria, the UOI lab, under the direction of Dr. Munir Cheryan, and the National Corn-to-Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in conducting their research and development.

“We have about completed our lab testing and we will build a micro-plant adjoining an ethanol plant in the next 18 months,” said Shane. “This will provide us with a ‘real world’ trial capable of producing several thousand pounds of material to provide our end users for market testing purposes.” Included in Prairie Gold’s mission, according to a company news release, is development and marketing of new biodegradable products in the food, nutraceutical and plastics marketplace. The technology involves extracting a solvent soluble protein (zein) from corn prior to fermentation in a dry grind ethanol plant. Zein has been the core ingredient in more than 3,400 patents since 1976 and has the potential for uses such as biodegradable plastic, food and paper coatings, chewing gum base, biodegradable textile fiber, pharmaceutical encapsulation for time-release medicines and more, the company stated.

The company has hired its own research and development director, who comes from the soybean oil processing industry.

The company plans to focus on developing alliances in the near future with ethanol companies and end users to create and cultivate new uses from corn by-products associated with ethanol plants, Shane said.