Turning fungus into animal feed

People around the world, especially Americans in the Midwest, should be familiar with the term ethanol. Record volumes of this biofuel are being produced in the United States, to the sum of 13.9 billion gallons in 2011. As the country continues to diversify its energy portfolio, ethanol bio refineries will play a vital role in supplying this homegrown transportation fuel to consumers.

Technological advancements continue benefit consumers by improving efficiency and creating new products. Learning from the petroleum industry’s illustrious history of crude oil refining, the ethanol industry is making great strides to get more out of its feedstock, corn.

Enter MycoMeal, an ethanol co-product that has the potential of adding substantial value to the ethanol industry. The MycoMeal production process adds value by producing a nutrient-rich animal feed supplement from a low value by-product, thin stillage. The fungal product is high in nutrients including protein, lysine and methionine, making it advantageous for swine and poultry nutrition.

In addition to creating a feed product, the MycoMeal process treats residual water from ethanol fermentation and can reduce energy inputs associated with wastewater treatment to allow ethanol facilities to reuse more water.

As the process continues towards industrialization, new ways to utilize the fungal product are being developed. In particular, research to extract chitin from the fungal product is promising. Chitin can become an additional co-product with a large existing market. Additionally, development of a human food supplement is a goal of researchers.

Research and development of the MycoMeal process is vital to the ethanol industry. It provides a viable co-product that not only creates additional revenue for ethanol producers, it offsets many aspects of the ethanol production process targeted by opponents, turning negatives into positives.

An Iowa State Student since 2006, Chris Koza received a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and received his master’s degree in December.  As a graduate research assistant, he spent two years working on the MycoMeal project.