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Environmental Implications of Phosphorus in Corn Processing Coproducts

Thomas E. Clevenger1, David B. Johnston2, Ronald L. Belyea1, Vijay Singh3,
M. E. Tumbleson3 and Kent D. Rausch3*
1University of Missouri 2Eastern Regional Research Center, ARS, USDA
3University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dry grind (DG) corn processing is the primary source of growth in the fuel ethanol industry. DG processors typically market only ethanol and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS); revenue from DDGS is critical to economic sustainability. DDGS quality affects the economics of DG plants.

DDGS is the material remaining after fermentation is complete and is high in fat, protein and fiber. Because of the energy level of DDGS, it is fed to ruminant animals. Phosphorus levels in DDGS (approximately 0.9% db) are three times that of corn. When phosphorus is fed in excess amounts to animals, it is excreted in wastes. Animal wastes may be treated and spread over land; this results in phosphorus being transferred to lakes and streams in runoff water, creating potential for eutrophication.

There is an increasing regulatory pressure to lower phosphorus inputs into the environment. Phosphorus is the primary cause of eutrophication of our bodies of water. Very small amounts of phosphorus (31 µg phosphorus per liter or parts per billion) will create an eutrophic lake.

Concerns about phosphorus have implications to corn processors and impact the long term sustainability of DG processing facilities. High levels of phosphorus in DDGS may limit its use as new restrictions are placed on the input of phosphorus into the environment. Technologies are needed to reduce phosphorus in DDGS, making it a more environmentally friendly foodstuff, which can be used for poultry, swine and ruminants.

*Primary contact:
Kent Rausch, Asst. Prof.
Ag & Biological Engineering

Department of Crop Sciences
College of Agriculture, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
University of Illinois Extension
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