Ethanol-ready corn

NEW VARIETY OF CORN DEDICATED TO ETHANOL INDUSTRY

CORN DESIGNED SPECIFICALLY to meet the needs of the ethanol industry has been released in the United States.  The corn variety, created by Syngenta and sold under the name Enogen™, was approved by the USDA last year and has been planted in the Western Cornbelt, near major ethanol plants, for this growing season. A total of 20,000 acres are expected to be harvested in 2012.

WHAT IS ENOGENtm?
Enogen™ is a bio-engineered corn variety designed to improve efficiency and productivity of corn ethanol production. The primary enzyme used in ethanol production is alpha amylase. Enogen™ expresses this enzyme directly in the endosperm. 

PHOTO: Infographic demonstrating increased efficiencies of ethanol production using EnogenTM corn

BENEFITS TO ETHANOL PRODUCTION
There are several significant incentives for ethanol facilities to use ethanol-ready corn. 

  • Eliminates the need to add alpha amylase. One of the first steps in ethanol production is creating a mash where heat, moisture, and liquid alpha amylase are added to break the starch into fermentable sugar.  With the Enogen™ trait, the heat and moisture activate the enzyme already contained in the kernel, therefore eliminating the need to add liquid alpha amylase and removing an entire step of the ethanol process.
  • Reduces the need to adjust pH. During ethanol production, sulfuric acid is used to adjust the pH level for optimal fermentation. Enogen™ corn has a broader pH range for fermentation than traditional corn varieties reducing the need for sulfuric acid by up to 27%.
  • Slurry viscosity is reduced. With ethanol-ready corn, the mash mixes easier, is thinner, and has fewer solids allowing the slurry to flow better through the facility. This lowers energy and water usage and reduces machinery maintenance. 
  • Lower production costs. All the improved efficiencies combined have shown 5.3% less natural gas use, 6.3% less water use, and 2.8% less power use. The cost savings are two to three cents per litre of ethanol produced. 

BENEFITS TO THE FARMER
One bushel of corn yields about 10 litres of ethanol. An Ontario ethanol facility could see savings of up to $5 million annually in production costs by incorporating Enogen™ corn in their processes.  With such significant savings, farmers can expect strong premiums on ethanol-ready corn. The current estimate is a premium of about 40 cents per bushel; however, this will be negotiated by the ethanol facilities. “This is a true premium,” stated Jack Bernens, Enogen™ Marketing and Stakeholder Relations, “because there is no price mark-up on the seed and no yield impact to the farmer”. 

RISKS AND CONCERNS
Enogen™ was developed with only one intended market – ethanol facilities. The desired trait that converts starch to sugar is undesirable to some other markets, particularly the food ingredient market. Although ethanol-ready corn is safe to consume, the trait it contains could impede performance for some food products, particularly those functioning as thickening agents or used in very high moisture and heat environments.

A plan has been developed to ensure Enogen™ is only grown in areas surrounding ethanol plants and avoids areas of food and industrial starch production. Currently, 20,000 acres of Enogen™ are growing in the United States in a “closed production practice”. The acres are all located in the western cornbelt (Iowa, eastern Nebraska, northeast Kansas, northwest Missouri, and southeast South Dakota) and all Enogen™ farmers are required to participate in a stewardship training program. Before any seed is sold the farmer must have a contract with the purchasing ethanol plant for the exact quantity being planted and any unused seed must be returned to Syngenta.

Other protocols have also been developed including spatial separation, planter cleanout, and delivery to the ethanol plant within a specific timeframe.  Syngenta will conduct periodic stewardship audits and monitor the systems currently in place.

The concerns from food producers remain, however, particularly around the potential for cross-pollination. Some opponents of the new trait have suggested that even one Enogen™ kernel in 10,000 traditional kernels could damage food products affecting qualities such as thickness, shape, and stickiness.

Syngenta’s Jack Bernens suggests this extreme impact to food quality is highly improbable. “There are some non-ethanol processes that can be impacted, but the probability of Enogen™ appearing in high enough concentrations to affect the food product is extremely low” says Bernens. “Extruded products, like cheese puffs, need to have almost 14% Enogen™ to see any challenges because the enzyme is much less active at low moisture and heat”. Bernens sees the biggest potential challenge in high moisture products like grits but explains that all grits are made with white or yellow food grade corn and pre-contracted with specific farms primarily in southern states where Enogen™ is not present.

WHEN WILL IT BE INTRODUCED IN CANADA?
At the beginning of 2011 the Enogen™ corn amylase trait was approved for import to the following countries:

•    Australia
•    Canada
•    Japan
•    Mexico
•    New Zealand
•    Phillipines
•    Russia
•    Taiwan

It is also approved for cultivation in Canada but earlier maturing hybrids suitable to northern geography are not expected until after 2014. To date, Enogen™ corn development has been focused on later maturities for the Western Cornbelt.

OTHER TRAITS IN THE PIPELINE
Corn Rootworm Trait
A new rootworm trait has been developed by Syngenta and is awaiting regulatory approvals. This technology is unique from previous technology and features a novel mode of action against corn rootworm, stacked with multiple other insect resistance traits. It is expected to be available in the United States in 2014 under the name Agrisure Duracade™ and commercialized in Canada shortly after.

Drought Resistant Corn
A hybrid corn variety has been developed by breeding tropical and temperate corn species for optimal water usage. The resulting mode of action is the first water-optimized technology for corn. Sold under the name Agrisure Artesian™ it has demonstrated potential to deliver 15% yield preservation under moisture stress making it ideal for dryland or limited irrigation acres.  This product will soon be available in Canada.

HPPD Soybean Trait
An HPPD herbicide tolerance trait, developed by Syngenta to address glyphosate resistance, should be available in North America between 2015 and 2020. HPPD inhibiting herbicides, such as those in Syngenta’s CALLISTO® family, are highly effective on broadleaf weeds. This new trait will enable soybeans to tolerant these HPPD inhibiting herbicides, significantly increasing weed management capabilities on-farm. Stacked with other herbicide treatments, the trait will offer long-term weed control in soybeans, particularly control of glyphosate resistant weeds. •

About Meghan Burke 17 Articles
Manager, Communications, Grain Farmers of Ontario