U.S. Grains Council – Importer Manual, Chapter2
U.S. Grains Council – Importer Manual, Chapter 2
Industrial Uses for Grains
Man has been harnessing the corn kernel for the value of its parts for
several centuries. It has long been a base for the fermentation of
alcohol. There is evidence Native Americans used corn to brew beer
before Europeans set foot in the Americas.
And, like today, government played a hand in the first attempts to
process corn into something other than hominy or animal feed. The
Molasses Act, forced on the American Colonies by the British
Parliament in 1733, first encouraged attempts to turn corn into sugar.
Later in the 18th century, one of the first national attempts at taxation
in the United States was on corn whiskey and led to the young
country’s first domestic crisis in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1792.
Western farmers distilled their corn into whiskey because it was easier
to transport. Efforts to process bulk corn into some product more
portable, at a time transportation was primitive and expensive,
intensified with the whiskey tax.
By the mid-19th century, corn had replaced wheat and potatoes as the
principle feedstock for starch production. In the United States,
cornstarch was first commercially converted into sugar in 1865 and,
long before the automobile was a common form of transportation, corn
had been processed into ethyl alcohol, or ethanol. Many of the earliest
engine prototypes were designed to run on ethanol. It was the
discovery and easy recovery of cheap oil that eliminated ethanol as a
competitive fuel 100 years ago.
Sweetener and food additive demands were the primary driving force
of industrial corn utilization and product innovation until the latter half
of the 20th century. Out of 67 kilograms of sweeteners consumed by
Americans annually in a variety of products, over one-third of them
come from corn or another feed grain.
The versatility, availability and cost of the product pushed chemists to
devise uses for corn - and the starch derived from it - in a spectrum of
merchandise that proved to be extensive. Even before energy
conservation and environmental concerns spurred industrial production
into areas of fuel and plastic substitutes, corn use had spread
throughout every aspect of industrial production. Not surprisingly,
those who process corn and refine it into these products today have
become very efficient at it.
Most people working in the U.S. corn refining business have been at it
for some time and have become truly adept at squeezing every drop of
value from each kernel’s molecular structure.
Upon arriving at a processing plant, each load of corn passes through a
cleaner that removes foreign material and other impurities. Then the
corn is soaked for 36 to 48 hours in hot water and sulfur dioxide. This
process softens the protein (gluten) within the starch matrix while also
toughening the germ.
The softened corn kernel moves on to the degerminating mills and the
resultant water-based mixture is called steepwater. Steepwater is
highly nutritious and can be further processed for various uses. This
additional processing consists of dismembering the weakened kernel
and separating the bran. Then, the aqueous mixture of parts moves on
to floatation tanks where a centrifugal hydrocyclone separates the
heavier parts from the lighter germ.
The lighter germ is then crushed for its oil content. After the oil is
removed, the remaining material is called, among other names, “corn
oil cake,” and is ground into meal.
What remains after the germ is removed is first filtered and then
returned to a high-speed centrifuge. In the centrifuge, gluten is
separated from the mixture and removed. The gluten, as much as 70
percent protein, is mixed with the bran and/or the germ residue to
become corn gluten meal or corn gluten feed.
Finally, with the gluten removed, the corn miller is left with the
industrial heart of the corn kernel – the starch - or any feed grain that is
refined through this process.
Starch is the feedstock that yields nearly all current industrial feed
grains products. From starch comes the vast array of industrial
products created over the years by public and private sector research
The most promising areas of new research and opportunity for
industrial uses lie in expanding the use of feed grains as a substitute for
petroleum. There is no molecular hydrocarbon derived from petroleum
that cannot be replicated from the starch feedstock.
The best hope for feed grains in quickly supplanting petroleum is
LDPE: Low density polyethylene
HDPE: High density polyethylene
PVC: Polyvinyl chloride
Biopolymers, such as polylactic acid (PLA), have had the most success
competing in the LDPE market. Inroads into this market began with
the development of a family of biodegradable polymers. Their
acceptance has been spurred by growing environmental concerns,
though the pace of that acceptance has been uneven and often difficult.
As environmental issues push biopolymers into commercial channels,
continued research and development will help bring the cost of
production down and broaden the demand beyond environmental
Products made of biopolymers were already common in the field of
medical applications without adding their unique environmental
benefits. The niche established in the field of food and product
packaging will grow as new eco-friendly legislation spurs compliance
by manufacturers across many industries. These applications will be
concentrated where recycling is either impossible or made impractical
by the circumstances of a product’s use.
Encapsulating products in a biopolymer is a fast growing field of
research and application. The process encloses a material - anything
from vitamins to fertilizers to toxic poisons - in a feed grain polymer
derived from starch that can be designed to remain intact, protecting
the encapsulated material, in most environments, and only breaking
down and releasing the material when it is demanded.
Encapsulation protects products from contact before use that might
lead to deterioration and significant value loss. Biopolymers can also
be constructed to allow controlled, gradual release of the encapsulated
material, saving repeated applications, time and labor. And, in the case
of toxic material, it protects those who must work with it from
potential injury or death, thereby reducing liability and creating a safer
The most immediate example of a solvent derived from ethanol is
windshield washer solvent. Typically, this product has been made from
a methanol feedstock, itself derived from natural gas. Yet this product,
which is found in many homes, is extremely toxic if swallowed.
Solvent produced from ethanol is as efficient, safe and price
competitive when the social costs of the methanol product are
considered. Although traditional methanol-based washer solvent still
holds the bulk of market share, these qualities should soon make the
ethanol-based solvent the product of choice in the United States.
CALCIUM MAGNESIUM ACETATE
Road salt is needed to keep roads free of ice and snow build-up during
the winter in many areas of the world, but the resulting corrosion is
wreaking havoc with bridge and road infrastructure. Estimates of this
damage in the United States run as high as $5 billion. Costs from the
contamination of drinking water and roadside vegetation are not
estimated but they are significant.
Calcium magnesium acetate, or CMA, can also be produced from
either a natural gas or feed grains feedstock. CMA is just as effective
in ridding roads of dangerous ice and snow. However, it is currently
more expensive than road salt before factoring in the societal costs to
infrastructure, water quality and environment. Its use is just beginning
to catch on with U.S. municipalities faced with the burden of
rebuilding their infrastructure.
This is one area where commercial applications are many and already
successful. Biopolymers derived from cornstarch were discovered to
absorb as much as 1,000 times their own weight more than a decade
ago. They quickly found use in disposable diapers, filters and
absorbent pads for medical treatments.
Researchers have continued to find new uses for these biopolymers in
the area of waste cleanup technology.
Considerable time and expense has been put toward deriving high-
value industrial chemicals from a starch feedstock. Although the
process is still not competitive with petroleum refining, there are firms
in the United States making industrial chemicals such as propylene
glycol, glycerin and ethylene glycol from starch refined from corn.
These chemicals are in turn the feedstock for a whole range of
everyday products such as cosmetics, synthetic fats, polyester resins,
polymers and antifreeze.
The petroleum industry has been around for nearly a century and has
been able to compete with its hundreds of billions of dollars worth of
refining infrastructure. However, work on making the process cleaner
and cheaper continues to narrow the gap between petroleum chemicals
and the corn-based equivalent.
How can importers tap into these potential markets at home? While
most of the basic refining processes have been part of general industry
practice for generations, there are now specific processes that are
protected under domestic and international patents.
These include certain fermentation processes to produce ethanol and
many of the chemical processes that create individual biopolymers that
form the basis for these new products.
It is beyond the scope of this manual to list or describe all those
processes that are protected by intellectual property laws in the United
States or the international community. There are many resources
provided by non-profit industry groups, U.S. government agencies and
international organizations that can help importers both keep track of
the exciting developments in the field of industrial uses for feed grains
and lend direction on how to harness the power of feed grains.
U.S. Grains Council
1400 K Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 789-0789
Fax: (202) 898-0522
The Council was founded in 1960 to develop and promote exports of
U.S. feed grains and their co-products. It is one of the few
organizations whose membership is truly representative of both
producers and agribusiness interests. They have successfully
coordinated and unified the efforts of both groups into a policy
promoting the global expansion for the utilization of feed grains and
their co-products. This manual is part of that effort.
The Council can be called on by any importer or potential importer for
assistance in either developing the technology to process feed grains
for industrial uses or in providing information on those products
themselves. The Council will direct inquiries to one of their many
internal experts on trade and utilization or to one of the 100-plus firms
and organizations comprising its membership. The Council also
maintains offices in 10 different countries plus consultants in many
more to help importers with their feed grains needs.
National Corn Growers Association
632 Cepi Drive
Chesterfield, MO 63005 U.S.A.
Phone: (636) 733-9004
Fax: (636) 733-9005
Founded in 1957, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) has
nearly 29,000 corn producer members in 47 states. The Association’s
mission is to enhance corn profitability and utilization while improving
the quality of life in a changing world. Among the Association’s many
programs to further this mission is a strong commitment to developing
new markets for corn.
In this role, the NCGA has funded many innovative research projects
probing the technological frontier for new industrial feed grains uses.
They have, for instance, helped focus the search for new products on
ethanol and biodegradable plastics. They continue supporting efforts to
make these processes more efficient and competitive with petroleum
feedstock and are promoting the development of starch-based
substitutes for road salt and window washer fluid.
The Association has a unique network of relationships focusing on the
development of new industrial uses, as well as a number of
experienced professionals working on their market potential. These
professionals can direct inquiries to researchers supported by or
familiar with the Association efforts in this area. They can also help
direct importers with specific inquiries to refiners or manufacturers in
the United States who might hold patents that could be licensed for
overseas use by an interested importer.
National Grain Sorghum Producers
4201 N. Interstate 27
Lubbock, TX 79403 U.S.A.
Phone: (806) 749-3478
Fax: (806) 749-9002
This Association represents sorghum grain producers across the United
States. They promote alternative uses for sorghum, which include
limited use as a feedstock for ethanol production. They do significant
work on production efficiencies, including testing on feed efficiencies
related to the presence or absence of tannin.
The Association is a resource for potential importers who wish to use
grain sorghum as an industrial feedstock and for help in inquiries
dealing with the production of ethanol from sorghum.
National Barley Growers Association
2601 Wheat Drive
Red Lake Falls, MN 56750 U.S.A.
Phone: (218) 253-4311
Fax: (218) 253-4320
This Association represents barley grain producers across the United
States. They promote alternative uses for barley and do significant
work on production efficiencies.
The Association is a resource for potential importers who wish to use
grain barley as an industrial feedstock.
Corn Refiners Association, Inc.
1701 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20006 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 331-1634
Fax: (202) 331-2054
The Corn Refiners Association (CRA) represents the wet milling
industry in the United States.
The CRA is unabashed in its support of innovative feed grains
U.S. Grains Council – Importer Manual, Chapter 2 17
utilization, particularly corn. It is the principal source of information
on new products from wet milling feedstock and their current use by
Importers needing statistical information on the U.S. corn wet milling
industry should think of the CRA as their first resource. The CRA can
also help direct specific inquiries to their refiner members.
North American Millers Association
600 Maryland Avenue, SW
Suite 305 West
Washington, DC 20024 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 484-2200
Fax: (202) 488-7416
This organization does for the dry corn milling industry what the CRA
does for the wet milling industry.
New Uses Council
295 Tanglewood Drive
East Greenwich, RI 02818 U.S.A.
Phone: (401) 885-8177
Fax: (401) 423-0862
The New Uses Council was established in 1990 to promote alternative
uses for U.S. agricultural products. Its mission is “to develop and
promote the use of renewable agricultural and forestry resources in the
production of new, nonfood industrial and consumer products.” In
pursuit of this mission, the New Uses Council has the active support of
many diverse producer and industry groups who share the same charge
for its specific sponsors: the promotion of new and innovative uses for
the agricultural output of the United States.
The New Uses Council has, as its principal resource, the network of its
many members. The firms and organizations that comprise the group
cover a broad spectrum of industry and producer interests.
Consequently, the Council offers a picture of this exciting field that is
as complex as it is complete.
Importers can use the New Uses Council as a resource to complement
the U.S. Grains Council and producer associations in gaining insight
into the latest developments on industrial uses. The New Uses Council
would also serve as a reference for identifying potential commercial
sources for licenses on individual products and processes.
Renewable Fuels Association
1 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 289-3835
Fax: (202) 289-7519
This Association was organized during the 1970s. Their mission is to
promote the use of renewable fuels. In practice, this has meant a strong
voice for ethanol.
U. S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 720-3631
Within this agency, the two main offices to contact for further
information are the Office of New Uses and Energy and the
Agriculture Research Service.
National Center of Agricultural Utilization Research, ARS
1815 North University Street
Peoria, IL 61604 U.S.A.
Phone: (309) 685-4011
Fax: (309) 681-6686
The Agricultural Research Service is responsible for spending much of
the money the U.S. government puts toward agricultural research. A
modest portion of this goes specifically toward new product research;
a small share of that portion toward developing new industrial
The ARS operates numerous laboratories across the country. The
Service is deeply involved in research on a broad spectrum of
agricultural questions, including all those raised in the debate over new
industrial uses for feed grains. For example, this is the government
service responsible for most of the latest developments into starch
research. They have made exciting strides in areas of biopolymers and
encapsulation. The “super absorbents” that have had such commercial
success are a product of these government laboratories.
They are an excellent source for new product avenues, quick and eager
to share their ideas. Importers interested in exploring industrial feed
grains use should include the ARS on their fact-finding tour.
Office of Technology Transfer
9000 Rockville Pike
Bethesda, MD 20892 U.S.A.
Phone: (301) 496-7057
Fax: (301) 402-0220
One method the U.S. government uses to share the fruits of its research
labors is through the Office of Technology Transfer (OTT). Part of the
National Patent Program, and a Division of the ARS of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, this office speeds products or processes
developed by government scientists into commercial application.
A unique blend of taxpayer-funded support and entrepreneurial
incentives, the program rewards individual scientists who work on
government projects a share in any patents and licensing revenue that
results from commercial application.
It was this office that licensed the super absorbent biopolymers that
rank as one of the great successes of feed grains over the competitive
petroleum feedstock. The U.S. government holds hundreds of other
patents, many of them related to starch research from the National
Center of Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill.
These patents include new approaches to absorbents, many different
encapsulation biopolymers, a variety of films (for example, shrink-
wrap biodegradable mulch) and new processes to ferment ethanol from
The Federal Technology Act of 1986 empowered the government, in
this case, ARS, to enter into contracts and agreements with both the
ARS and individual scientists called Cooperative Research and
Development Agreements, or CRADA’s.
CRADA’s give the cooperator who has entered into an agreement with
ARS the right of first refusal to any commercial license opportunities
that might arise from the agreed-to project. Under CRADA’s, the
cooperator may or may not provide funds depending upon the
relevance of the proposal to the agency’s mission. Information on
CRADA’s and how they function can be obtained through the OTT.
For help in identifying an opportunity to work with the ARS in
CRADA’s, inquiries should be directed to ARS Utilization in Peoria,
Ill., or their Washington headquarters.
OTT also offers a number of services designed to showcase the
government’s inventory of agricultural patents. These include:
• TEKTRAN – an electronic system that gives the
subscriber direct access to information on new research
results and inventions that are available for commercial
• Agricultural Inventions Catalog – a comprehensive list
of the patents held by government jointly with ARS
research scientists. The catalog is updated periodically
and can be obtained through the OTT.
In addition, detailed help in obtaining licenses for U.S. government-
held patents is available through the OTT. They have published several
how-to aids that walk the potential licensee through the steps needed to
bring the product or process patented to the marketplace.
Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Center
12th & C Streets, SW
Washington, DC 20250 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 401-4860
Fax: (202) 401-6068
The Alternative Agricultural Research and Commercialization Center,
or AARCC, was established by the U.S. Congress in the 1990 Farm
Bill. The mission of AARCC is to provide an independent forum for
government to aid promising commercial applications of agricultural
Under the AARCC charter, proposals are submitted for review and, if
accepted, AARCC and the submitting cooperator share in the expense
of the project. AARCC’s share of the contribution is repaid when the
project’s commercial applications begin to produce revenue. The
funds are then reinvested in another project, theoretically priming the
research pump eternally.
The first time AARCC accepted applications for project funding, at
least 150 projects totaling nearly $500 million were submitted. Some
of the products AARCC is currently funding that involve feed grains
• a value-added composting system designed to relieve
demand on large-scale landfill operations; the system is
based on cornstarch-based polymers and animal materials
which yield a product of high nutrient value;
• new pest control products based on cornstarch-encapsulated
• reopening a mothballed ethanol plant and upgrading the
refining processes; sorghum would be the principle
• developing an ethanol-based windshield wiper fluid; and
• developing a farmer-based group that aims to accelerate the
commercialization of the processes that turn cornstarch into
AARCC officials will share information on the projects they are
currently funding and direct inquiries on potential licensing
opportunities to the respective cooperator involved.
Cooperative State Research, Education & Extension Service
800 9th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20004 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 720-7441
Fax: (202) 401-1782
The Cooperative State Research Service is another USDA agency
charged with the broad task of furthering agricultural growth through
the avenue of new industrial uses. The Service is an information
network for the many state research activities that take place outside
the federal government umbrella. They also serve to coordinate
U.S. Grains Council – Importer Manual, Chapter 2 22
activities between the different research arms and direct federal funds
to promising programs carried on at state laboratories and facilities.
They are an excellent resource for the potential feed grains user,
providing a unique overview of the many state-funded programs of
research that do not come under federal oversight.
Department of Energy
Office of Alternative Energy
National Biofuels Program
1000 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20585 U.S.A.
Phone: (202) 586-9118
Fax: (202) 586-4403
For importers specifically concerned with ethanol and using its energy
to supplant unhealthy and environmentally unsound petroleum
products, the Department of Energy’s Office of Alternative Energy is
the first place to turn for advice on government efforts in this
Under an agreement between the departments of agriculture and
energy, this office spearheads the joint efforts of these federal agencies
to promote biofuel use and fund projects designed to make the refining
process more efficient.
The Department of Energy is also responsible for monitoring the
implementation of the Clean Air Act which promises to boost ethanol
consumption in the United States by up to 33 percent by the turn of the
century. The Department of Energy supervises research on ethanol-
burning vehicles and the relative environmental benefits of ethanol and
other alternative fuels.
Department of Defense
Washington, DC 20301 U.S.A.
Phone: (703) 692-7100
The Department of Defense has a group whose aim is to support
domestic sources of energy. Though this is broad enough to cover
many renewable energy schemes, the agency is particularly interested
in biofuels to replace the imported petroleum products the military
relies exclusively on today.
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
General Information Services Division
Crystal Plaza 3, Room 2CO2
Washington, DC 20231 U.S.A.
Phone: (800) 786-9199
Fax: (703) 305-7786
Patent Depository Library
Phone: (703) 308-3924
Both of these agencies can be used as resources to research the patent
history of agriculture inventions in the United States. They can provide
detailed descriptions of the products and processes protected by U.S.
and international patent law and identify the patent holder if an
importer is interested in licensing that technology.