New technologies in value addition to the thin stillage from corn-to-ethanol process

Cristiano E.Rodrigues Reis, Aravindan Rajendran, Bo Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

16 Scopus citations


Grain-to-ethanol production has increased steadily in the United States in the past few decades, which resulted in remarkable records in the availability of co-products. Dry-grind is the most common method of ethanol production worldwide, which concentrates the corn and yeast nutrients in the downstream operations. The ethanol co-products have traditionally been a commodity for livestock feed as they contain desirable nutrients, mostly sold as distiller’s grains. The liquid fraction produced after the centrifugation of the bottoms of the ethanol rectifying and distilling operations is named thin stillage, produced at volumes several times greater than those of ethanol. A portion of thin stillage is normally recycled as backset water, while the remaining goes through a series of evaporations. Evaporating a large amount of water from thin stillage is an energy-consuming process and recycling the thin stillage may lead to the accumulation of nutrients in co-products in distiller’s grains. There are several other industrial processes to utilize thin stillage, such as oil extraction, anaerobic digestion, and secondary fermentation. Recently, promising results have been reported on the production of important commodity chemicals, extracting high-value products, and energy production from thin stillage. This review provides an overview on the new processes and products via valorization of thin stillage by innovative technologies that are being currently developed. The new applications of thin stillage discussed in this review could open new opportunities for the ethanol plants and ethanol researchers by increasing the revenue and simultaneously reducing negative environmental impacts of ethanol production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-206
Number of pages32
JournalReviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017


  • Bioprocessing
  • Ethanol
  • Thin stillage
  • Value-added utilization

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