Ethanol Co-products

Once considered merely “byproducts” of ethanol production, distillers grains and other valuable components of the global animal feed market are today considered true “co-products” of renewable fuel production—and a vital contributor to the industry’s bottom line

Sophisticated grain ethanol production facilities have been utilizing engineering and design enhancements, new process technologies, automation upgrades, and other advances to make remarkable gains in efficiency to extract more out of each bushel of corn. On average, one bushel of corn processed by a dry mill ethanol plant can now produce:

  • 2.86 gallons denatured fuel ethanol 
  • 15.9 pounds of distillers grains animal feed (10 percent moisture) 
  • 0.75 pounds of corn distillers oil for animal feed and biodiesel production 
  • 16.5 pounds of biogenic carbon dioxide for food, beverage and chemical manufacturing

In 2018, the U.S. ethanol industry generated a record 41.3 million metric tons (mmt) of distillers grains, gluten feed and gluten meal. In addition, the industry also produced nearly 4 billion pounds of corn distillers oil, used as a feed ingredient or biodiesel feedstock. 

Now fully under the regulatory oversight of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, ethanol plants are required to comply with preventive controls requirements as mandated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  

This federal rule requires covered facilities to follow current good manufacturing practices for animal food production and have a written food safety plan that includes an analysis of hazards and risk-based controls.  These preventive controls provide a formal assurance to buyers around the world that American ethanol co-products continue to be safe feed ingredients. 

U.S. Distillers Grains Exports

Ethanol Industry Co-product Animal Feed Output

wdt_ID Year Million Metric Tons (mmt)
29 2007 15.60
30 2008 22.59
31 2009 27.12
32 2010 33.04
33 2011 34.21
34 2012 32.06
35 2013 32.34
36 2014 34.80
37 2015 35.52
38 2016 36.21

Source: RFA and U.S. Dept. of Agriculture

Top Destinations for U.S Distillers Grains Exports in 2018

U.S. ethanol plants satisfied growing domestic feed needs while also exporting nearly one out of every three tons of distillers grains. A geographically diverse set of markets on five continents jockeyed to purchase the 12.1 mmt of exported U.S. DDGS in 2018. For the second straight year, Mexico was the top market and close to one in five of all shipments of distillers grains headed south of the border. South Korea, Turkey, Vietnam and Thailand were other top markets in 2018.

Unfortunately, protectionist trade barriers negatively affected distillers grains exports in 2018.  After serving as the top destination for U.S. DDGS five years in a row, the Chinese market collapsed to less than 2 percent of global shipments in 2018 due to the imposition of a punitive tariff for five years starting January 2017.  

A bright spot on the global market was Vietnam, which re-opened its doors to U.S. DDGS exports following its Dec. 2016 market suspension.  RFA will continue to look for ways to open and expand markets for American ethanol co-products in 2019. 

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