FHR unveils a $50M gambit to make Überprotein at ethanol plants

January 18, 2017 |

BD TS 011917 FHR cover sm

In Nebraska, Flint Hills Resources will invest more than $50M in its Fairmont, Neb. ethanol plant to install a new technology that will produce a high protein animal and fish feed ingredient from a portion of the plant’s distiller grains, a co-product of ethanol production. The project is one of the largest investments in co-product upgrading technologies ever made by a dry mill ethanol manufacturer.

If you think about it, millions of years ago, the plains of Nebraska formed the shores of the Niobrara Sea, a vast shallow waterway that was teeming filled with marine life — including the very dinosaurs and their food supply that, according to some, provided the carbon base for all that sweet West Texas crude. So, I guess it’s fitting to make fish meal in Nebraska, if you  think in very long timelines.

And it’s a tasty add-on to the economics of biorefineries. Not that the Koch brothers don’t think about renewables and making the world safe for the RFS every day. It’s just that, at Flint Hills, if it’s going to get built, it better work in eyes of the Department of the Precious Benjamins. Supermassive black holes have looser grips on spare change than FHR.

FHR has been on a Nebraska tear of late. Just four months ago we reported “the most important technological advance in biodiesel in recent years has reached commercial-scale in Eastern Nebraska, with the startup of the Duonix Beatrice biodiesel plant, which is and the first commercial-scale application of Benefuel’s innovative ENSEL technology. ENSEL technology is capable of converting a range of lower cost feedstocks such as recycled cooking oil and distillers corn oil into high-quality biodiesel.”

And although the action was in Iowa, Edeniq announced last month that the EPA approved Flint Hills Resources’ registration of its 120 MGPY Shell Rock, Iowa ethanol plant for cellulosic ethanol production using Edeniq’s Pathway Technology.

The Protein revolution

9 million people in 2050, that’s the expected world population and we’re short on fish, and things to feed fish. That’s why we have been especially attentive to the Calysta story, which we most recently reported in Going to Graceland, when Cargill, Calysta select Tennessee for methane-to-feed project

And we’ve been pointing you at every opportunity to a similar trend over in the Algae Cinematic Universe, which we last limned in Turn and Face the Strange, which honed in on the relentless pursuit of fishmeal, here.

So, it’s protein, protein, protein. And now we have residue from ethanol production making a high-end meal that will command that high-end price. That’s Food from Fuel, if you will — the successor to Food vs Fuel.

“MSC is an innovative, bolt-on technology that separates and upgrades a portion of distillers grains into a cost-competitive, high protein feed ingredient intended to help meet the growing need for protein in feed rations around the world,” said Kevin Karasiuk, plant manager at Flint Hills Resources Fairmont.  “The technology provides an exciting new platform for Flint Hills Resources to compete in the alternative protein feed ingredient market.”

Why Mikey the Fish might like it

The high protein feed produced using MSC is a combination of corn gluten (protein) and spent yeast.  It has an improved amino acid profile when compared to corn gluten meal produced at corn wet mills while also having a higher protein concentration than spent yeast alone. The MSC-produced feed will have at least 48 percent protein making it an excellent ingredient for the aquaculture, pet food and poultry industries among others. The feed has comparable shelf life to corn gluten meal and soybean meal and can be stored in silos or distributed through various transportation modes including bulk packaging and containers for export. Flint Hills Resources will market the high protein feed as NexPro protein ingredient.

The deployment backstory

The plant buys 42 million bushels of corn annually to produce 120 million gallons of ethanol, 310,000 tons of distillers grains and nearly 20 million pounds of distillers corn oil.  The plant employs about 60 people.

FHR's Fairmont, Nebraska plant

FHR’s Fairmont, Nebraska plant

Flint Hills Resources and Fluid Quip Process Technologies have conducted over fifteen NexPro feed studies with independent and well-respected university researchers to demonstrate value in tilapia, trout, shrimp, dairy, swine and poultry. The results of these studies have shown NexPro to be an excellent source of nutrients in the diets of these animals.

The Fairmont MSC project will require significant construction including the addition of a new building and two protein dryers. Construction is expected to begin in the spring and will last about 12 months.  The project is expected to create about 120 construction jobs. The plant will remain in operation during construction.

The technology backstory

The new technology, called Maximized Stillage Co-Products, was developed exclusively for the dry mill ethanol industry by Fluid Quip Process Technologies.  The Fairmont plant will be just the fourth – and, to date, the largest – ethanol plant in the world to deploy the technology. Fluid Quip Process Technologies will provide the MSC technology, separation equipment, process engineering, construction oversight, and startup support for the Fairmount system.

Fluid Quip Process Technologies developed the MSC technology by leveraging years of experience in the corn wet mill and ethanol industries to provide innovative solutions for dry mill ethanol facilities. The technology uses a series of mechanical processes to separate protein from the solids leftover after ethanol distillation. Centrifuges are used to isolate protein molecules from residual fiber and carbohydrates. Once the protein is isolated, it is sent to a protein dryer where it is dried into a fine powder. The drying process is essential to ensuring the high-quality of the protein product.

In addition to its high protein content, NexPro is expected to have about 3.5 percent crude fiber, 4.5 percent fat and 1.1 percent phosphorus. The feed also contains yeast leftover from the ethanol fermentation process. The remaining yeast contains lysine – an important amino acid essential for growth in animals –  giving the product more total lysine than traditional corn gluten meal.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“MSC leverages proven technology to provide a path for dry mill ethanol manufacturers to upgrade their co-products stream while enhancing plant ethanol and corn oil operations,” said Neal Jakel, vice president of strategy and technology at Fluid Quip Process Technologies. “Our goal when we developed the MSC technology was to help ethanol plants produce higher value co-products by isolating valuable components within the corn kernel.  MSC helps ethanol producers to better diversify their revenue stream by entering new and quickly growing feed markets worldwide. In turn, this provides ethanol producers a competitive edge in the feed ingredients market. We are excited to work with Flint Hills Resources to install MSC at the company’s Fairmont ethanol plant.”

“There is growing demand for protein in the world,” said Mark Kruse, general manager of grain and feed ingredients at Flint Hills Resources. “Industries such as aquaculture and poultry are looking for additional sources of protein to supplement the diets of their fish and birds. NexPro will expand producers’ choices in the market and provide them with a higher value product than other high protein feed ingredients. We are eager to introduce producers to the benefits of NexPro and begin working with them to satisfy their protein needs.”

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