The U.S. ethanol industry makes an enormous contribution to the global animal feed supply.  One-third of every bushel of grain that enters the ethanol process is enhanced and returned to the feed market, most often in the form of distillers grains (DDGS), corn gluten feed and corn gluten meal.  Only the starch portion of the grain is made into food; the remaining protein, fat and fiber pass through the process.  A modern dry-mill ethanol refinery produces approximately 2.8 gallons of ethanol and more than 17 pounds of distillers grains from a bushel of corn.

In 2015, ethanol biorefineries produced approximately 40 million metric tons of feed, making the renewable fuels sector one of the largest animal feed processing segments in the U.S.


Historic Distillers Grains Production from U.S. Ethanol Biorefineries:

Year Metric Tons
1999 2.3 million
2000 2.7 million
2001 3.1 million
2002 3.6 million
2003 5.8 million
2004 7.3 million
2005 9.0 million
2006 12.0 million
2007 14.6 million
2008 23.0 million
2009 30.5 million
2010 32.5 million
2011 39.0 million
2012 34.4 million
2013 35.5 million
2014 39.0 million
2015 40.0 million


Ethanol co-products are fed to beef cattle, dairy cows, swine, poultry, and fish around the world.  Feed co-products represent an increasingly important share of profit opportunities for ethanol producers as well.

Corn Distillers Oil: Over the past decade, the ethanol industry has also emerged as a major producer of corn distillers oil (CDO), which is used as an animal feed ingredient or feedstock for biodiesel production. In 2015, approximately 85% of dry mills were extracting oil, and it is estimated that more than 2.7 billion pounds of CDO were produced.

Exports:  Exports of distillers grains surged to record levels in 2015, at approximately 12.6 million metric tons, 11% higher than in 2014.  Nearly one-third of total 2015 distillers grains production was exported.  Internationally, distillers grains are gaining widespread acceptance as a high quality livestock feed component.  These markets are particularly important to the U.S. as domestic co-products markets near saturation.  China – the largest customer – was the cornerstone of international market expansion in 2015, receiving over half of all U.S. shipments. Thus, it is imperative that free and open trade with China is maintained.  Mexico was the second-leading market for exports, followed by Vietnam, South Korea, Canada and Thailand.

Investing to Improve Quality
Ethanol producers are investing in new technologies to improve the quality and quantity of the livestock feed they produce. A number of dry mills are installing technology that allows them to separate crude corn oil from the stillage at the back end of the process. This crude corn oil can be sold into the feed market (particularly for poultry), further refined and sold into the human food market, or used as a feedstock for biodiesel.

Guidelines are also available for analyzing DDGS. A year-long study funded jointly by RFA, the National Corn Growers Association, and the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) offers recommended test methods for determining the moisture, crude protein, crude fat, and crude fiber content of DDGS. These factors are often viewed as the key determinants of the market value of the product. Historically, the lack of “standard” empirical DDGS test methods has led to results that vary significantly from laboratory to laboratory, causing product uncertainty for producers, marketers, nutritionists, regulatory bodies and — most importantly — distillers grains customers. RFA believes the widespread voluntary adoption of recommended test methods will reduce market confusion and add more structure to the DDGS marketplace. Click here for the report.

Useful links:

Feed Associations


RFA’s Mycotoxin Impacts on Ethanol Co-Products

This document focuses on mycotoxins (produced by fungi (molds) that can contaminate commodities and foods) and the possible impacts they may have on ethanol co-products, specifically revolving around the 2012 summer drought conditions. If you have any questions, please contact Kelly Davis at