Kansas Corn: Just Dirt

Seed to STEM
Grade Level: High School

Overview

The main renewable fuel derived from corn is ethanol. Ethanol is produced when yeast ferment the sugars released from starches in the corn. In addition to starch, corn plants also store energy in the form of oil. The extraction and use of these oils as a valuable coproduct is becoming a more common practice in the production of ethanol. These oils can be used in cooking, but also in the production of fuels in the form of biodiesel or renewable diesel. Biodiesel is a renewable, clean fuel that can be mixed with conventional diesel. Biodiesel, like ethanol, is made of carbon atoms that were in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide before being fixed during photosynthesis. Biodiesel is produced when the fatty acid chains of the oil are removed in a reaction with methanol and a catalyst. Renewable diesel is also produced from different oils by a catalyst driven reaction that allows for the precise manipulation of the molecules, producing an even more stable product.

 

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