Tech Tuesday

DDGs as World Hunger Solution?

Turning biofuel byproduct into flour offers interesting potential, switchgrass is efficient biomass maker and a science society hits a milestone.

Dried distillers grains are a byproduct of a growing ethanol industry and while there's a lot of debate about food versus fuel, at least one South Dakota State University grad student is taking a positive approach. She's working on turning the byproduct into a flour to be used in a wide variety of world cultures.

Sowmya Arra recently won a poster competition at the Institute of Food Technologists Conference in Anaheim, Calif. Her project was titled "Fortifying Chapathies an Asian Whole Wheat Unleavened Flad Bread Using Corn Distillers Dried Grains." That's right, she's worked up a recipe using DDG flour in a whole-wheat flatbread popular in Asia. Her goal - feed the world.

Arra has already expended her work with the flour to include naan - an oven-baked, leavened flatbred popular in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. Arra, who is from India, explains in a University release that she wanted to make a product that has ll the nutrient values. What she found in the distillers grain is 40% dietary fiber and 36% protein. Those are hefty numbers for a flour that could change dietary quality.

In many of those countries it's common for folks to make their own bread and Arra sees potential in ramping up the nutrition content of the flour they use. Arra has worked with her adviser Padmanaban Krishnan, who has been working food products from the byproduct since 1989. Both of these food technologists see the importance of providing a flour that's higher in fiber, which has benefits for both developed and developing countries.

Finding new ways to use a byproduct from bioenergy production has plenty of value for the nation's corn farmers. And this news shows that the "food versus fuel" argument isn't as clear cut as some would have you believe.

Switchgrass is a Biomass Winner. The move to biomass could use as much as 50 million acres of cropland, idle cropland and cropland pasture according to a U.S. Department of Energy and USDA study. To be economically viable this perennial approach will require nitrogen fertilizer, but which biomass source is a top producer? New work at Oklahoma State University says switchgrass is a clear winner.

In the work, four perennial grass species were tested including bermudagrass, flaccidgrass, lovegrass and switchgrass. The aim was to determine the most economical species, the level of nitrogen and the harvest frequency for several sets of nitrogen process and hypothetical biomass prices.

What they found is that for the area where the grasses were grown, switchgrass was a clear winner producing more dry biomass per dollar cost than the other three species. If perennial grass for biofuel feedstock is the best alternative for a field and the price of biomass exceeds the cost of production, here's what they found. The optimal strategy would be to establish switchgrass and in post-establishment years to fertilize with 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. Harvest would occur only once per year after the field goes dormant.

Many proponents of biomass say a perennial grass source would require little attention, but this study shows that at least some nitrogen would be required each year to keep the crop viable. If biomass biofuel takes off, switchgrass appears to be a strong contender as a source.

Plant Pathologists Celebrate a Big Birthday. Back in the 1880s, anyone working with plants was considered a botanist and in those years a lot of work was done in the area of classifying plants. But over the next three decades, those "botanists" also learned more scientific techniques and began to diagnose plant diseases and seek solutions with resistant plants.

By 1908 these new-style plant doctors felt a need to separate themselves from botanists to better define their profession, and they needed their own journal where they could publish their research. "Scientists professionally are defined by where they come together as a group and where they publish their research," notes Paul Peterson, Clemson University plant pathologist and historian. Peterson, and colleague Karen-Beth Scholthof, a Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist, have printed an article that examines the creation of the American Phytopathological Society in an article to appear in the January 2010 edition of the journal Phytopathology.

The timing of the article coincides with the group's 100th anniversary as an association, which first met in Boston on Dec. 30, 1909. This same group works hard today to diagnose diseases, find resistant plants, work on treatments, develop models for predicting disease and treatment options and a host of other factors that impact the world's food crops. A tip of the hat to this important organization and its historical milestone.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.