“The value of the animal feed produced by the ethanol industry has long been misunderstood, understated and misrepresented,” said Geoff Cooper, RFA vice-president of research & analysis. “Distillers grains continue to be the industry’s best kept secret, despite the fact we are producing tremendous volumes of this high value feed product today.

“DDGS and other ethanol feed products significantly reduce the need for corn and soybean meal in animal feed rations. Over the past several years, distillers grains have been one of the most economically competitive sources of energy and protein available on the world feed market. While some critics of the ethanol industry attempt to downplay the role of DDGS, the facts simply can’t be ignored.”

One of the reasons one ton of DDGS can replace more than one ton of conventional feed is that its energy and protein content are concentrated. Only the starch portion of the corn kernel is converted to ethanol, while the protein, fat, fiber and other components are concentrated and passed through the process to the distillers grains.

Grain ethanol feed product volumes approached 39 million metric tons in the 2010/11 marketing year, an amount of feedthat would produce nearly 50 billion quarter-pound hamburger patties. Nearly 25 percent of U.S. ethanol feed output is exported to countries around the world to feed livestock and poultry.

More complicated, but no less important, is the impact of DDGS on land use change and the GHG emissions associated with corn ethanol production.

Most existing biofuel regulations, including California’s Low Carbon Fuels Standard (LCFS), significantly undervalue the contribution of DDGS when assessing the net GHG impacts of corn ethanol. For instance, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) assumed for its LCFS analysis that one metric ton of DDGS replaces only one metric ton of corn, with no substitution of soybean meal.

Using information from the new ERS report would significantly increase corn ethanol’s GHG emission benefits. The importance of distillers grains assumptions in carbon accounting and land use change calculations is described in more detail here.

“The RFA has long pointed out that the importance of DDGS is being undervalued by the regulatory agencies responsible for federal and state regulations that require a GHG assessment of ethanol,” said Cooper, highlighting two 2009 reports sponsored by RFA that reached similar conclusions as the new ERS report.

“USDA’s new analysis clearly shows the importance of accurate DDGS accounting. The Environmental Protection Agency and CARB should immediately adopt these new findings into their GHG modeling for the RFS2 and LCFS. The resulting decrease in ethanol’s lifecycle GHG emissions could be significant.”