Another Use for Waste

Jacqueline Mullin

Ethanol comes from many different sources, including corn, wheat, barley and potatoes, and while it has become an increasingly popular fuel source over the last decade, we are just learning now that a by-product of ethanol production has yet another use.

Dried distiller’s grains, a by-product of ethanol production, has been identified as an inexpensive source of protein and energy for cattle. The dried distiller’s grains are now being transformed into a nutritional supplement that is added to livestock food by ranchers.

Ethanol has actually been used as a fuel source for over forty years. Often included as part of a fuel blend recipe, ethanol production and consumption continues to rise worldwide due to the ever-increasing desire to find alternatives to fossil fuels. With the growth in ethanol use comes vast amounts of dried distiller’s grain, a by-product of the corn fermentation process. It was once viewed as just a waste product. However, a partnership between ranchers and researchers, focused on identifying ways to ensure cattle receive high quality feed year-round, resulted in the identification of a positive way to utilize the product. The idea of removing the dried distiller’s grain from the waste cycle was born.

The issue before the ranchers and scientists stemmed from the realization that the changing seasons moved plant life through a maturation process. This process altered the physical make up of a key component of livestock food – grass. Fields of grass examined at the beginning of the year showed a product that was lush and easy to digest while further into the season the same grass was tough and hard to digest. It became apparent that animals subsisting on livestock food comprised of mostly later-stage grass were lacking nutrients – protein, minerals and energy. Dried grains have long been understood to contain nutrients. The decision to use dried distiller’s grains as livestock food supplements later in the foraging season made sense.

As land becomes scarce and resources depleted, inventive ways to reduce waste and re-use the products already available to us increases. Success stories such as this can and do act as a reminder to other scientists and engineers to look to other waste products that can be consumed rather than tossed aside as garbage.