LifeLine Foods is opening a new generation ethanol plant in St. Joseph, Missouri that could eventually put to rest the whole “food versus fuel” issue.
The facility features a mill in the front of the plant that separates the corn kernel into fiber, protein and starches. This technique enables increased utilization of the starch within the kernel. The resulting higher quality starches will be used for food products while the lower quality starches will be used to produce ethanol.
In addition, the plant utilizes the fiber in the corn kernel to produce energy. This process reduces the plant’s dependence on natural gas and allows the plant to generate its own fuel.
Ken McCauley of White Cloud, Kansas is one of the plant’s 600 farmer-owners. He is also president of the National Corn Growers Association and he says this plant is a new innovation in the ethanol industry. “When you talk about food and fuel, this is the epitome of it,” said McCauley. “It’s the perfect answer to somebody who says you’re just taking food and making fuel. No, we’re not. We’re making the most out of every kernel of corn.”
McCauley explains how it works. “This is the perfect fractionation process because you’re breaking it down at the front end. So, you’re actually getting the germ out, which is the corn oil. You’re also taking the endosperm out and you’re getting what we call snack grits, that make the snack products. What’s left is starch, already broken down and ready to make ethanol.” Finally you have a high protein product leftover.
The slogan for LifeLine’s plant is “Fueling America, Feeding the World” and McCauley says it’s important for agriculture to step up and start defending itself against the critics of ethanol. “There’s nobody going hungry in the world because of ethanol,” he says.
Bill Becker, CEO of LifeLine, says using the fiber to create energy for the plant is also a major part of the equation. “One of the misnomers about the ethanol industry is that it takes more energy to produce it,” he says. “That might have been true 35 years ago but there’s been great strides in efficiency. And I believe we will continue to see improved efficiencies to the point that the fiber will supply 100 percent of our energy needs (in the plant). And I think that’s within 2-3 years.”
LifeLine produces ingredients for dry cereal, snacks and tortillas. Some of the flour they produce has been distributed around the world in the Food for Peace program through USDA.