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New technology offers increased corn demand

An Iowa member organization works to create opportunities for long-term corn grower profitability. The organization’s latest project, highlighted in the following piece.

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) received recognition at Commodity Classic 2018 for its efforts to create an alternative to oil and natural gas-based compounds used in plastic. Alex Buck serves as industrial innovation manager for ICPB. Buck says ICPB’s latest innovation would replace a chemical called Monoethylene glycol, or MEG.

“MEG is used today as a commodity chemical. It is used in the manufacture of plastic for soda and water bottles, as well as polyester clothing. It is (also) as an anti-freeze. Our process is to take corn glucose, or corn sugar, and turn that directly into MEG,” Buck said.

Recognition stemmed from ICPB’s participation in the Consider Corn Challenge. The Consider Corn Challenge encouraged industry stakeholders to identify new and innovative uses for field corn as a renewable feedstock for making sustainable chemicals with significant market demand.

Global demand for Monoethylene glycol grows four-percent each year. The four-percent growth creates room for roughly 94 million bushels of corn, providing potential for valuable market growth. Bruck says ICPB’s innovation would increase demand for United States corn.

“The idea for this project started in our research committee. One grower asked, ‘What’s going to be our next project? Ethanol’s been great for us in increasing demand. What’s going to be the next increase in demand?’ That started the idea of trying to find a project that we could use to increase demand. And we’ve just grown from there, starting with a corn grower,” Bruck said.

ICGA, one of six Consider Corn Challenge winners, will receive $25,000 for growth and research. Buck says the prize monies will be put towards a pilot program.

“Research is ongoing right now. We are working through demonstration of our technology and looking towards a pilot plant, scale-up which is required in the chemical industry in order to de-risk a technology (before) going into commercialization,” Buck said.

Buck says “a lot of different factors come into account when citing a plant.” However, he believes the Midwest shows great potential since a lot of corn is produced in the region.

“When citing a plant – a lot of things come into account,” Buck said.” One of the big factors is where your feedstock is. Corn is in the Midwest, so our feedstock is in the Midwest. A lot of polyester and plastic producers are on the Gulf Coast. It’s going to come down to a lot of different things, but I envision a strong pull to have something using corn in the Midwest.”

Buck says a pilot plant could be built in five years, depending on research partnerships.