Absolute Futures has clients everyday trading Corn. With all the publicity about Ethanol being made from Corn, we decided to write a couple of simple articles explaining what Ethanol is, how it is produced, and the amount of corn required to produce a gallon of Ethanol. This is the first in a series of articles about Ethanol. We hope it will enlighten anyone who trades Corn or is considering trading the commodity Corn in the future.
Ethanol is a colorless, volatile, flammable liquid that is the intoxicating agent in liquors and is also used as a fuel or solvent. Ethanol is also called ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol.
Ethanol is the most important member of a large group of organic compounds that are called alcohol. Alcohol is an organic compound that has one or more hydroxyl (OH) groups attached to a carbon atom. Alcohol is shown as: C-O-H or C-OH.
Ethanol is a product of fermentation. Fermentation is a sequence of reactions which release energy from organic molecules in the absence of oxygen. In this application of fermentation, energy is obtained when sugar is changed to ethanol and carbon dioxide. All beverage ethanol and more than half of industrial ethanol is made by this process.
Changing corn to ethanol by fermentation takes many steps. Starch in corn must be broken down into simple sugars before fermentation can occur. In earlier times, this was done by chewing the corn. This allowed the salivary enzymes to naturally break down the starch. Today, this is achieved by cooking the corn and adding the enzymes alpha amylase and gluco amylase. These enzymes function as catalysts to speed up the chemical changes.
Once a simple sugar is obtained, yeast is added. Yeast is a single-celled fungi which feeds on the sugar and causes the fermentation. As the fungi feeds on the sugar, it produces alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide. In fermentation, the ethanol retains much of the energy that was originally in the sugar, and explains why ethanol is an excellent fuel. Most of the ethanol production in the United States is made in 50 production facilities in 20 different states. Most of these plants are located in the Midwest. Changing the starch in kernels of corn to sugar and changing sugar to ethanol is a complex process and requires a mix of technologies that include microbiology, chemistry and engineering.
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