Precision Drives More Ethanol from Corn

Laura McNamaraAudio, Education, Precision in Practice, Research

Ethanol production is taking off throughout the U.S. It seems a new ethanol plant is popping up every week. Well, maybe not every week. But, it is safe to say that, with the recent high gas prices and the recent push for alternative fuels, ethanol plants are coming online at an accelerated rate.

This recent surge in ethanol production means corn growers are looking at corn in a new way. Starch is now a high dollar attribute of corn and that means farmers are interested in ways they can get more starch out of each crop yield. Therein lies the problem. Matias Ruffo, a post-doctorate researcher from the Crop Physiology Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says his studies have found that nitrogen fertilizer can have a negative impact on ethanol yield and starch concentration in corn.

But, Mattias says his research in the U.S. has found ways to minimize that loss and optimize ethanol yields from corn. Mattias says that through the use of a variable rate nitrogen, a precision farming technique, farmers can have a positive impact on ethanol yields compared to the traditional uniform nitrogen application. In effect, Matias says growers can increase their ethanol yields through an exact nitrogen rate application to their crops. This technique, he says, means corn will have a less negative response to Nitrogen as it relates to ethanol yield. This result is even more successful, he says, when it’s applied to specific hybrid corn varieties. Mattias says nitrogen will have a more negative impact on yellow, non-specific corn than on a hybrid designed specifically for ethanol yields.

“The ethanol plants will be benefited by having a precision ag program as far as their work with farmers because they will see an increase in their ethanol yield as a grain with improved quality,” Mattias said.

I interviewed Mattias about his research on the impact nitrogen fertilizer has on ethanol yields. You can listen to my interview with Mattias here: Mattias Ruffo, post-doctorate researcher with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign