Companies to Produce Edible Ethanol Co-Product

Cindy Zimmerman

Two Illinois companies are working together to produce an ethanol co-product that has a variety of food, industrial and chemical product applications.

Prairie Gold (PGI) of Bloomington, and GTL Resources USA of Itasca, Illinois have agreed to collaborate on the construction of a zein protein production plant. Zein is a high valued co-product that can be produced from the corn ethanol process. Zein is a natural food-based polymer that can be used to make coatings for candies, gum, and pills, as well as confectioners glaze, flexible films, and biodegradable plastics and fibers. Zein is edible and in its pure form is colorless and odorless which makes it ideal for many applications in the food, pharmaceutical, and specialty chemical industries. It has already been used for many years in the pharmaceutical industry and as a textile fiber substitute, but interest in the product is growing because it is a natural substitute for existing fossil fuel based alternatives. However, until now zein has been too expensive to enter into high volume applications.

PGI, a technology development company, has been testing their propriatary Corn Oil and Protein Extraction (COPE) process at GTL’s 110 million gallon ethanol plant located near Rochelle, IL. GTL, in concert with their ethanol subsidiary Illinois River Energy, provides the space, utilities, and feedstock to extract zein protein from corn. In 2009 GTL and PGI constructed a 2400 sq. ft. pilot plant on GTL’s ethanol plant site. The objective of the pilot plant project was to demonstrate the efficient extraction and purification of soluble zein protein from the corn kernel, prior to fermentation. The pilot trials have also provided zein samples for market development activities with customers.

Ethanol, Ethanol News