Replacing Petrochemicals with Biochemicals made from Corn

June 07, 2018


Farmers gathered at the CUTC in St. Louis this week (June 4, 5, 6) to learn about future uses for the nation’s number one commodity crop.

The Corn Utilization and Technology Conference is organized by NCGA or the National Corn Growers Association. It happens every two years and is dedicated to exploring future uses of corn. Vijay Singh is a regular. He works for the agricultural college at the University of Illinois and specializes in engineering ethanol processing plants. Singh sees them expanding to include biochemical production in the near future, “That’s the big thing right now and for that, we need large amounts of sugar. The U.S. is at a major advantage in terms of producing sugars from corn and that comes from the corn processing industry.”

The corn processing industry has long focused on creating food products, high fructose corn syrup, ethanol and some other co-products. However, now that sugar, rather than crude oil, has become the preferred feedstock for producing high-value biochemicals that are used to create consumer products, things like polymers, there is a place for corn in that pipeline.

The U of I engineer says because it is economically feasible dry-grind ethanol plants are starting to produce sugar along with producing ethanol. Those sugars can then be used to produce biochemicals. The biochemicals made from a renewable source, corn, are taking the place of petrochemicals.