By Kathryn Atkins
According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota is the 3rd largest swine-producing state in the United States and the 12th largest poultry producer. Most locals know that Minnesota is also the number one turkey producing state in the country, raising 45 million birds annually. That’s a lot of manure! Excretions of this quantity are sure to have an environmental impact.
In his laboratory, Dr. Bo Hu and his research group focus on developing bioprocessing technologies that convert agricultural residue and waste materials into value-added chemicals and biofuels that can be repurposed. This is exactly what Hu and his team were able to do, thanks to the MnDRIVE Global Food Ventures initiative.
Minnesota is a leading producer of corn, some of which is used by the ethanol industry to make fuels and other products. One of those co-products is distiller's dried grains with solubles (DDGS), which are used as animal feed. Phytate is a component in this feed but it cannot be digested by monogastric animals like swine and poultry. This means the phytate ends up in manure when DDGS are served as animal feed and contributes to environmental pollution. Hu says that this is a waste of feed value for the corn ethanol industry, and when animal manure is not appropriately applied to the field it impacts our environment with a surplus of phosphorus.
“We developed a chemical method to extract phytate as a valuable chemical from corn ethanol co-products,” said Hu.
This revolutionary tactic will bring additional revenue to the corn ethanol industry by reducing waste, improving feed digestibility, and reducing phosphorus discharge into the environment. “Minnesota is a major state producing corn ethanol, and this project can help the industry to generate more revenue while reducing the environmental footprint,” explained Hu.
Based in the University of Minnesota Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering, Hu’s team has been working to incorporate their chemical method for phytate extraction with local companies like Absolute Energy and CHS Inc. A Unites States patent was also filed for the technology developed through this research. The team is receiving inquiries from companies all around the world and working to license the innovation.
The MnDRIVE funding has spurred additional research. Hu and his team are now working in the area of nutritional improvement for corn ethanol co-products. They received support to continue their research studying nitrogen utilization from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. They also received support from the National Science Foundation to look into fungal fermentation methods to improve nutrition and digestibility of corn ethanol co-products.