Where & How Is Ethanol Made?

Ethanol is made in 28 states - from California to New York. The sugary-starch found in field corn is converted to ethanol by a process that is very similar to how an alcoholic beverage is made.

An American-made fuel

The field corn grown throughout the United States is used for ethanol, livestock feed and so many other uses. 

American-made ethanol supports a wide-range of jobs - from farmers to ethanol biorefinery managers to fuel researchers. Plant-based biofuel is the fastest-growing renewable energy technology, supporting thousands of jobs in the United States.

When we use homegrown, corn ethanol in our fuel supply, it decreases the barrels of oil we import from foreign nations. In 2017, 15.8 billion gallons of ethanol were made in the United States. Greater use of ethanol will increase our energy security while stimulating the US economy.

Field corn goes the extra mile for ethanol

When a bushel of field corn is used for ethanol production, biorefineries only use the starch in the corn. The protein, fat and fiber in the corn returns to livestock feed as what's called dried distiller grains. So each bushel of corn can actually be used twice - once for fuel and once for livestock feed. 

To make ethanol, field corn is ground into a coarse flour-like substance. It’s then mixed with water to form a mash. By adding enzymes, yeast and heat, the starchy mash converts to sugar, and then the sugar converts to alcohol. The liquid is then separated from the remaining solids. The liquid, which at this point is called ethanol, is distilled and denaturanted to make it undrinkable. The solids become a high-protein livestock feed. This common way of making ethanol is called a dry milling process. 

Henry Ford and Alexander Graham Bell were among the first to use plant-based biofuels. Since those days, the technology and facilities for making ethanol continue to improve their energy efficiency and environmental impact. Ethanol biorefineries even capture the carbon dioxide that is naturally released during the fermentation process, so it can be used for bottling carbonated beverages or dry ice.


Field corn vs. sweet corn

More than 99 percent of the corn grown in the United States is field corn. Field corn is harvested when the kernels are fully matured and dried. Field corn is primary used for livestock feed, ethanol production and other manufactured products. A small portion is processed for use as corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup.

Another type of corn is sweet corn. Sweet corn is enjoyed fresh off the cob, frozen or canned. This type of corn is picked when the kernels are immature, which is why sweet corn is soft and sweet.