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Ethanol 101

Ethanol is an alcohol-based alternative fuel. The fermented product of corn starches, ethanol can be made by dry-mill, wet-mill, or biomass processing. Through one of these processes, corn is fermented, distilled, and separated into a starch-filled liquid (ultimately become ethanol), solids, and corn oil. These co-products and by-products from ethanol production have become staples in food and manufacturing industries.

Dry Mill Ethanol Process

Gasoline and Ethanol Blends

Ethanol-blended fuel, specifically E85 and E15, differ from fossil fuels gasoline in their source; corn is specifically grown to produce ethanol and useful by-products, while traditional gasoline is refined from crude oil. Nearly all gasoline contains up to 10% ethanol because any vehicle can run on up to a 10 percent blend; the percentage is often displayed on the gas pump. Ethanol raises the oxygen content of gasoline to help mitigate air emissions.

The two most common ethanol blends are E85 and E15. E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline and, conversely, E15 is 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline. Both E85 and E15 can only be used in specially designed flex-fuel vehicles, so it’s best to consult a vehicle’s handbook or manufacturer’s specifications before filling up a vehicle with ethanol.

What are the by-products of ethanol production?

RFA: “On average, one bushel of corn processed by a dry mill ethanol plant can now produce:

  • 2.92 gallons denatured fuel ethanol o 15.86 pounds of distillers grains animal feed (10% moisture)
  • 0.80 pounds of corn distillers oil for animal feed and biodiesel production
  • 16.5 pounds of biogenic carbon dioxide for food, beverage and chemical manufacturing

Indiana Biorefineries

There are 14 biorefineries in Indiana that produce ethanol. For an analysis of the GDP impact of ethanol refineries, view the 2014 Indiana Corn Marketing Council report. These report excepts show that ethanol and its co-products have generated a positive impact on Indiana’s economy.

“Ethanol in the U.S. and Indiana has become the main driver of economic growth supporting, directly or indirectly, crop farmers and businesses within their supply chain.”

“Indiana’s ethanol industry generated economic activity or revenues from ethanol and its interlinked industries in 2014 in the order of $3.6 billion.”

“This is a total impact and includes all revenue from ethanol production co-products, plus revenues generated from indirect and induced impacts.”

Table guide:

  • Operating capacity represents how many millions of gallons per year the plant can produce.
  • Bushels of corn is the approximate amount of corn needed for a plant to operate at full capacity for a year.
  • Distillers dried grain with solubles (DDGS) are a co-product of ethanol production and is used as a high-protein animal feed alternative to corn- and soy-based animal feeds. A 2011 USDA study estimates “a metric ton of DDGS can replace, on average, 1.22 metric tons of feed consisting of corn and soybean meal in the United States.” Because the co-product of ethanol production results in a more-efficient livestock and poultry food sources than direct corn or soy feed, the impact of growing corn for ethanol is less impactful to the livestock food supply chain. Source
  • Corn oil is a by-product of ethanol production that is used in poultry feed and biodiesel production.
  • CO2 can be captured during the fermentation process, and is a by-product that is sold for use in carbonation for bottling, dry ice, refrigerant, and other segments of the food and food processing industries.
Indiana Ethanol Plants Production Statistics
data from
Company NamePlant LocationOperating CapacityBushels of CornDDGS (tons)Corn Oil (pounds)# of EmployeesCO2
Cardinal EthanolUnion City125 Million36 Million340,00023 Million52 
Central Indiana EthanolMarion55 Million20 Million160,00011 Million62115,000 tons
Green Plains Renewable EnergyBluffton120 Million     
Grain Processing Corp.Washington35 million     
Green Plains Renewable EnergyMount Vernon90 million     
Iroquois Bio-EnergycCompanyRensselaer57 million20 million150,00013 million35-40 
South Bend EthanolSouth Bend65 million23 million177,000 60 
POET BiorefiningAlexandria76 million24 million190,00024 million45 
POET BiorefiningShelbyville92 million31 million246,500 43 
POET BiorefiningCloverdale92 million     
POET BiorefiningNorth Manchester68 million24 million178,000 40 
POET BiorefiningPortland76 million26 million200,000236,00042 
The Andersons Clymers EthanolClymers110 million40 million350,000   
Valero Renewable Fuels CompanyLinden130 million46 million385,00032 million70 
Valero Renewable Fuels CompanyMount Vernon100 million37 million320,000 65