Bio-fuel production generally uses a fermentation process to convert starch into a desired product – for example, ethanol, bio-butanol, as well as others. Corn and sorghum are the usual feedstocks for this source of starch. Because corn (and sorghum) contain other nutrients besides the starch, these other nutrients are concentrated in the resulting co-products such as distillers grains. Most of us initially think about the protein fraction. This makes sense: protein is an expensive nutrient and we are quite comfortable basing the price of our co-products on protein level.
But what about minerals? Certainly, they are concentrated, as well. Although all minerals are important, one which commands a good deal of attention from co-products, such as distillers grains and corn gluten feed, is phosphorus (P). Phosphorus is an expensive nutrient to supplement to animals. So, when it is concentrated in the co-product, this can be a very good thing. Besides being concentrated, its bio-availability is usually increased dramatically. A “double benefit”: we have an expensive nutrient which is both concentrated and more available!
Another mineral which commands our attention is sulfur (S). Sulfur contained in the original feedstock is, usually, fairly low. So, the concentration effect is, usually, not of great consequence. However, various sulfur compounds are routinely used as “processing aids” in the production of bio-fuels. As a result, elevated sulfur in the resulting co-products does become quite important.
What does this mean for livestock producers? The “good” is that they can exploit the higher levels of phosphorus and sulfur (as well as other minerals) for improved cost and feeding efficiency. The “bad” is that mineral nutrition can easily get out-of-balance which may result in negative production consequences. In that case, these co-products must be limited in the diet.
One final consideration: if fed in excess, these minerals excreted by the animals will end up in the manure being applied to farmland. If the soil is deficient in these minerals, this is a great benefit to the farmer! However, if the soil is high in these minerals, then the land application must be limited.
Bio-fuels production facilities should employ a consultant who has formal training in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, and nutrition. Further, the consulting nutritionist should have “hands-on” experience in both the bio-fuels industry and the livestock production industry – especially ration formulation. A good consultant will be able to help understand the co-products being produced and how to maximize their production and value. The value of your co-products (and, thus, the price paid) is being constantly evaluated by your down-stream feed customers.
Lee Enterprises Consulting is the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with over 150 highly qualified experts serving in all these areas. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide. Most of our experts are also available to advise and serve as expert witnesses in bioeconomy litigation matters. For the larger projects, we specialize in putting together full service, interdisciplinary teams with one point of contact. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information.