With ethanol profits down by as much as 20 percent per gallon this year–even as production increased and foreign sales broke records–it’s time to take a closer look at distillers corn oil extraction.
Ethanol production simply cannot be consistently profitable without the revenue streams that come from your co-products–and distillers corn oil (DCO) is the most profitable of these. There’s a lot of room to both increase the amount of distillers corn oil you’re extracting and to reduce the wild fluctuations in how much you extract each month.
Modeling Baseline Distillers Corn Oil Yield
At one time the maximum DCO extraction yield was around 0.4 to 0.5 pounds per bushel. (The potential, in an ideal world, is closer to two pounds of DCO per bushel processed.) Today, we’ve found that the average DCO yield is closer to 0.7 pounds per bushel. But that’s still only around 30 percent efficiency, and the actual yield range is a whopping 0.5 to 1.2 pounds per bushel.
At the current price of around 25-cents per pound–and assuming you can consistently pull around 0.5 pounds of DCO per bushel–that distillers corn oil can add an additional $133,000 of revenue to a plant’s operations each month.
But even then, that hypothetical plant is still almost certainly leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table every month.
Maximizing Your Distillers Corn Oil Yield
There’s a lot of room for improvement here. Most plants aren’t extracting nearly as much oil out of their stillage or syrup as they could be. Using modern chemistry and disk centrifuges on the backend, you should be able to increase your DCO yield by 50 percent or more.
But this isn’t just about increasing DCO extraction. Many plants find that their month-to-month DCO production is fairly inconsistent. DCO is an important component of your revenue backstop. No one wants a safety net that may or may not be there when prices fall.
Over the past several years Trucent has conducted a benchmarking study tracking more than 40 ethanol plants, in addition to collecting data on 250 DCO-related factors in 6,000 samples. We’ve isolated 50 key factors to help pinpoint what changes in chemistry and flow management are needed to increase DCO yield. We’ve also continued to modify our high-speed disk centrifuges to more efficiently extract more corn oil. This includes optimizing to compensate for changes in stillage solids content and improving our clean in place (CIP) procedures to mitigate fouling and clogging arising from changes earlier in the stream.
As a result, we can fine-tune DCO extraction to maximize a specific plant’s operation. Today, we can regularly extract DCO with between 75 percent and 95 percent efficiency (averaging around 86).