Corn Gets Research Funding Green Light

The U.S. Department of Energy recently announced that corn grain is an acceptable feedstock for use in research projects seeking funding from the federal agency.

In the most recent Funding Opportunity Announcement, the DOE Bioenergy Technologies Office clarified that corn grain is acceptable, clearing the way for funding research into new uses for corn, such as plastics, and others.

The announcement follows work by the National Corn Growers Association Market Development Action Team, a committee focused on decreasing the growing pile of corn in the United States through new uses. Committee Chair Dan Wesely says the need was uncovered during a trip to learn about corn fiber and its potential market.

“We found that DOE could not fund that research because of their current interpretation and guidance of what they had. So, NCGA put together some information on corn that could be used as an industrial feedstock. So we took that information and we went to Washington, D.C., actually went there three times. And we made many follow-up calls and meetings. And finally in March, they clarified that starch could be derived from sugars that specifically is in field corn in that research. So, it made that acceptable feedstock for funding for research. SO, we were really excited about that, kind of good accomplishments for all our hard work and time put into this.”

The recent decision from DOE allows for more research to find new uses for corn, increasing corn demand.

“DOE is one of the largest funders for research in energy efficient technologies. So, we wanted to address that and make sure that DOE separated out the products and allowed the technologies to be scaled up. We want to get them to commercialization as soon as we can. An example, DEO currently has a plastic innovation challenge and other efforts to leverage with ethanol infrastructure that will allow plants to diversify with more products, including these plastics and molecules and chemicals, that can be made from corn.”

Wesely says the work with DOE is part of a larger effort by NCGA.

“The farmers are very efficient on raising corn. It seems like each year we increase that pile. And so, we thought new uses would be the way to go. We launched an innovative challenge, its called Consider Corn Challenge over the last two or three years, and we’ve had nine winners come out of that challenge. If we can bring them to commercialization sooner, they have the potential, if they fully commercialize, to use 2.9 billion bushels of corn. So, just a percentage of that would really help us out. Anything we can do to bring them sooner to commercialization would just be to our advantage.”

Wesely adds you can find more information on NCGA’s new uses initiatives online.

“Go to NCGA’s website, and that’s NCGA.com/newuses. And they can reach out to the staff, or members of the Market Development Action Team would be more than happy to talk new uses and where we can go with that. And certainly myself, I enjoy talking about that and we’re pretty excited about where this potential can go.”