Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller's Grain and Fuel Ethanol

Final Report for OS05-023

Project Type: On-Farm Research
Funds awarded in 2005: $15,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2006
Region: Southern
State: Texas
Principal Investigator:
Peggy Korth
Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources
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Project Information


Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol concluded an extended on-farm research project to prove an enhanced dairy cattle diet and potential fuel sustainability on a working dairy farm. The project charted significant increases in milk production and adequate fuel ethanol production to run farm equipment and vehicles. Implementing small-scale facilities in working farms offers farm industry revolution broadening the scope of value-added products and the ability to supply energy needs for modern technology through traditional distilling and new disciplinary commitment. Collaboration aligned farming interest with industry demonstrating practical application for solving energy availability while augmenting food-related dairy products.


A farmer with a stable, diversified operation can provide for many of his own needs, thereby safeguarding his ability to maintain operations during times when market volatility unsettles his economic viability. Some safeguarding steps addressed in this project include enhancing the quality of the feedstock and producing low-cost fuels for energy use and backup.

In some parts of the country distillers grains, a by-product of ethanol production, provide an important livestock feed supplement, but not in the South where there is a dearth of ethanol manufacturing facilities. It is possible for a dairy farmer to coordinate activities that will produce an excellent distiller's grain to augment dietary supplements for their cattle while producing energy efficient and ecologically-sound fuel ethanol.

On Farm research evaluates through demonstration a system where value-added processing of feed for dairy animals also produces clean energy as fuel ethanol. Efficient processing of high-protein distiller's grains enhances dietary supplements to dairy cattle while adding the benefits of fuel ethanol to farm energy resources. The corn remaining after distillation has 13% increased nutritional value and can be used immediately as feed. Producing “in-house” non-competitive grain, fuel, and other byproducts stabilizes farming operations allowing the farmer to be self-sufficient during the times when market values are not favorable for his particular production efforts. Sustainability becomes not only a year-round practical use of resources, it becomes a year-after-year production-based operation suited to individual needs for each farm.

Project Objectives:
Cattle Feed and Farm Fuel

Research Objective: Coordination of resources to obtain sustainable control of one’s own farm.
The project systematically evaluates the quantity and value of increased milk production in dairy cattle that ate distillers grain and byproducts from a newly assembled fuel ethanol still. Value-added products and processes provide data gathered over the term of cattle feed enrichment. From that data, the feasibility of farmers producing in-house distiller’s grain and fuel ethanol demonstrates the overall benefits for utilizing innovative practices. A list of activities includes evaluating each practice both individually and as a part of an expanded system. The number of different benefits derived from the entire plan, assist in providing economic stability as well as sustainability. Moreover, if a practice provides benefits that may not otherwise be available or questionable in availability for the future, then the current benefits can be projected to include forecasting. This applies to fuel cost and availability, and the cost involved in hauling distiller’s grain from remote areas of the country. Each benefit’s evaluation presents economic savings and economic forecasting. Small scale on-site production of distiller’s grain enhances the health of dairy cattle, milk production, and milk quality. Evaluation before and after feeding from farm source verifies benefits.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • John Painter
  • J. Craig Williams


Materials and methods:
Long Term Investment

Designed to address a number of value-added and energy saving concerns, the project, Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol merits duplication and consideration for self-sustaining practices throughout the United States and globally. The size of the system can vary according to available grain. Small systems are advantageous without requiring large initial investments in distilleries or a large workforce. For the most part, one employee focused on the distillery with occasional assistance from other farm workers. Affordability centered with adaptation and renovation of an old dairy barn and moving a pre-used distillery to the farm. Because traditional distilling is basically the same for fuel or beverage production, it is practical to use recycled materials in construction for FUEL production. The ethanol is not consumed by living creatures, and therefore, practical construction is not concerned with taste or elimination of fusels and alderhydes that cost time and money in the beverage industry.
Adapting existing equipment saves capital investment and used equipment can be serviceable. Therefore, it is practical to use a grinding machine that is able to handle the necessary feedstock (grains) without purchasing new equipment. Preparing the mash involves a grinding step to expose or release more of the starches into contact with the yeast. If the farm anticipates long-term commercial applications, for equipment used 24/7 durability can influence a purchasing selection. Financial purchasing decisions revolve around available capital, return-on-investment, and mean-time of estimated service.
Water and water storage is important. The microbes that turn starch into sugars to be distilled need spring water or treated water to remove chlorine. Spring water is easiest for yeast digestion and pH maintenance. Most importantly, heat exchange piping saved significant electrical heating expense. Recycling water saves expensive water heating. Thermal transfer systems optimize cost savings.
Fermentation vessels are loaded for batch runs estimating three and a half days for fermentation time. Record keeping assists in data analysis and estimating cost and profitability. Each batch run data collection includes the following: Time and Date; Temperature; Weight/ Lbs of Feedstock Cost; Volume of H2O; Enzyme Cost, Type, Quantity/ Malt (Grain); Acid; Volume of Distiller’s Grain; Fuel Ethanol Produced. Processing equipment includes: Solenoids to control the flow of water; Thermometer to confirm optimum temperature for yeast action; Hydrometer to indicate alcohol content; and a pH meter to assure yeast activity.

Research results and discussion:
Research Confirms Value

Achieving immediate and significant milk production increases indicated a benefit of 10 pounds of milk per cow or per day and approximately 75 gallons of fuel ethanol per ton from the grain processed thereby proving the premises of the study. The nutrient value and charting of milk produced are highlighted in the final documentation and various educational programs developed and presented to discuss this project. Charting production began the week following supplementing the cattle feed with a mix of distiller’s grain and soybeans. Additional biomass mixed with the distiller’s grain (corn and soybean) blended a feed supplement to include green waste vegetation. (Photos available in the educational presentations.) Farm employees commented on the comical enthusiastic relish by the cattle to munch the new fuel production waste and distiller’s grain diet. The cows voraciously ate the mix which was often served warm. Steaming loads of biomass were often moved from the distilling process straight into the feed troughs.
An analysis of the milk itself also proved excellent quality for milk standards. Because the farm caters to the health-food market, only organic corn and feedstock are used in processing and cattle feed. Increased milk production pays higher dividends for the specialty food markets.
Charting the milk production took place over a six month period. The quantity of milk significantly changed during the feeding of distiller’s grain. The highest level of production was achieved the first month upon adding the distiller’s grain supplement. An analysis of milk production showed a tapering 4% decrease in milk production by decreasing the distiller’s grain. After three months the distiller’s grain was limited to corn without the soybean. Removing soy residue from daily ration charted an immediate 1% drop; and the final removal of corn as distiller’s grain ended in another 3% drop. Most importantly, the combination of corn and soybean in the distiller’s grain produced the most abundant quantity of milk. Upon removal of all distilling feedstock additive the production fell as shown on the data chart to levels typical of this dairy operation.
The ethanol itself was used as a fuel in a number of different farm engines and vehicles without drying or blending. The usual ethanol production exceeded 190 Proof. The farm management expects to begin drying and blending fuels in the near future and has been careful to follow suggested guidelines from unapproved fuel use without experiencing problems in equipment for using less than 100% fuel ethanol. Furthermore, the family uses low-proof fuel ethanol as a heating source.

Data collected is presented in the final appendix. Statistical analyses from peer-reviewed journals support the dairy cattle nutritional findings.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:
Speeches and Spectators

Presenting the project included a number of on-farm demonstrations and tours plus extensive travel to highlight the project for various groups. The farm staff includes a number of generations of family members . The most articulate representative, John Painter II adapted PowerPoint presentations about the project written and edited by the cooperating participants, the project coordinator and the county agent. Berks County, PA hosted a Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol program at the Kempton Fair Grounds for National Sustainable, Renewable Fuel Alternatives. A thousand people in attendance from all over the USA attended the fair and approximately 125 attended the special session. Ethanol and Bio-diesel definitely received the most interest from the farming community. A presentation at the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Convention at the Hershey Conference Center in Hershey, PA. allowed 500 delegates to attend a two hour session on this on-farm research and value-added plan where John fielded questions during and after the session. Various crop and farm meetings continue to request presentations and John Painter repeatedly presents the project including updated perspectives and information.

Open House continues with large groups being hosted such as a bus load from Crawford County Pennsylvania including all three Crawford County Commissioners, farmers, and businessmen. Crawford County plans to build a large fuel ethanol facility. The Painter’s serve generous meals and refreshments like hot soup, crackers and cheese, home made doughnuts, cookies, and brownies and on hot days, ice cream sundaes. Beverages include coffee, tea, ice water and cider.

The cooperating county agent, Craig Williams organized a group of several dozen PA County Agents with interest in the every aspect of the project to tour the on-farm research facility. Mifflin County, PA businessmen and farmers repeatedly return to visit to "take another look at the plant". Additional tours have included (but not limited to) the Doebler Seed Company executives and personnel to evaluate corn usage. Occasional individuals are granted tours which spark innovation such as assistance in creating a molecular sieve for drying ethanol and working with an "organic" focus. The Pennsylvania Departments of Agriculture and Energy and our Tioga County Planner reviewed the project which may lead to assistance in marketing excess inventory and financing improvements.

A web presence is being uploaded through the Penn State University system that includes significant pictures of the entire process and participation.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:
On-Farm Energy Sustainability

The demonstration farm provides internal economic stability and sustainability in all the following ways:
• Increased milk production
• Higher quality of milk
• Fuel production and on-farm fuel use.
• Efficiency of operations including cost controls and workforce conservation
• Open house to visitors who want to follow the on-farm Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol example
• Presentations to farm-related groups for self-sufficient practices

Future planning includes promoting commercially available distilleries for small to mid-sized farms. When the outcome of the study proved that the available fuel can be made and used by the farmer without targeting commercial fuel sales, the project also allows the viability of small distilleries as a way to safeguard the nation’s food supply. Public energy consumption and use relies on large economics-of-scale to supply a world-wide energy glut. Yet, understanding that the energy needs of our farms can be targeted and practiced by the farmers themselves significantly changes the perspective of value. A nation may be able to cut its energy needs, yet it needs to keep its food supply stable. Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol demonstrated this ability.

Economic Analysis

Investment must be related to return-on-investment. Duplicating the on-farm project requires an initial investment of money, time, and workforce. The economic impact escalates as oil supplies dwindle. Distillery operations require safety and proper maintenance, oversight, and training to reduce operational risks. The most direct approach would be to take the challenge to experiment and join a network of like-minded people who are willing to share their solutions. Inputs require an investment in low-cost construction materials that are appropriate to fuel ethanol production. Yields can become a part of the anticipated farm production or as supplemental to usual operations. Net returns will be different for climate and feedstock availability. The estimated cost of distiller’s grain is as follows: Lt dist - $164.6/ton; DK dist - $181.06/ton; Wet dist - $8.77/ton. Low-proof ethanol is not valued on a sales market and use of low-proof ethanol as an energy source is a new and emerging industry. Because the practicality of owning and operating an on-farm distillery can preserve our nation’s ability to supply food, then a continuing commitment to advance similar efforts brings hope for sustainability practices globally. Remember, that the quality and use of fuel ethanol differs from beverage alcohol in purity and processing materials. Test prove that the product qualifies as an excellent fuel but not of a quality for FDA food standards use in cosmetics. The primary drawback is in inappropriate human consumption of alcoholic products.

Farmer Adoption

Innovation Continues

Livestock and Feedstock: Distiller’s Grain and Fuel Ethanol demonstrates how sustainability meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the land or future generations to supply their own needs. Currently, on-farm practices include keeping technology that assist in meeting economic and supply needs in an environmentally friendly manner. The more economically robust the outcome, the greater the potential for implementation. The urgent imperative for farmers to achieve sustainability to maintain not only their personal businesses, but also to provide necessary products to the public makes this project extremely important as a demonstration.


Areas needing additional study

Team Talent

The talented team from this on-farm research study is ready, willing, and able to forward related projects. Adjunctive Technologies for working with small fuel ethanol systems are in their nascent development. Innovation in solar power will reduce production energy, electrical generation from low-proof ethanol can serve farm and networked needs for remote families or grid sales. Conversion of diesel tractors to low-proof fuel ethanol use is available for demonstration and dissemination. Azeotropic science merits pilot project proof for a number of non-traditional approaches. And using waste heat from any number of sources can maximize heat-exchange efficiencies. Each and every one of these projects can be coordinated by Water Assurance Technology Energy Resources (WATER) when working with such innovative and interested people as the participating farmers at Painterland Farms and County Agents like Craig Williams.

Build It: Furthermore, the installation of small systems deserves assistance for on-farm sustainability access to equipment. Further availability to small systems can support university agricultural studies and sharing research results among academia and qualified research organizations. Once again, the non-profit educational leadership from the WATER staff is available to forward related data collection associated with small distillery development. And association with commercial interests allows access to low-cost facility construction. Most importantly, WATER has developed safety and instruction materials for technician training for fuel ethanol facilities. Bringing this knowledge to continuing education and community college dissemination can insure appropriate industry standard operating criteria and compliance understanding.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.