Aw, shucks: Corn waste yields feed and fuel

Apr 3, 2014

MBI employee Laurel Hills inspects a tub of corn stover used in the AFEX project. It's a process by which leftover corn residue, or stover, is treated with ammonia and heat to release sugars. The end product makes a good feedstock for cattle as well as a promising biofuel.
Credit Kevin Lavery/WKAR

Spring planting season for corn in Michigan is still at least a month away, but scientists who study the crop’s amazing versatility want you to cast your vote for a “home-grown” project. The Michigan Biotechnology Institute, or MBI, is developing a process that seeks to get more use out of the leftover  residue of the plant that’s not fit for human consumption.

The project MBI is working on is called “AFEX,” or ammonia fiber expansion. Years ago, an MSU chemist named Bruce Dale developed a way of treating  the non-edible parts of the corn plant, called corn stover, with ammonia. That releases the sugars inside the plant that make an excellent feedstock for cattle. It’s also  a promising bio-based fuel source. The project has been nominated for a national award, and MBI is encouraging the MSU community to get online and vote for AFEX. Current State's Kevin Lavery spoke to Jim Wynn, director of bio-based technology de-risking at MBI.