Stillage Disposal Is a Challenge for Kentucky Distillers

10 Mar.,2023


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For many years, livestock producers have been primary users of stillage for feeding their herds, since it is a great source of protein and energy for cattle. Dairy farmers have a harder time getting to distilleries in a timely manner because Kentucky's dairies are in the southern part of the state, while the distilleries are in the center part. Also, some distilleries are constructed in urban areas with few cattle nearby to utilize the stillage as feed. DDGS has a very short shelf life and must be used quickly, or it will go bad, especially in the heat, and in turn, will lose the nutritional value. Stillage contains close to 93% water, which makes it challenging to transport and feed.

Distillery numbers are up 250% in the past 10 years, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. For every gallon of bourbon produced, approximately 10 gallons of stillage remains, with an estimated 96 million gallons of stillage produced in Kentucky annually. Currently, demand for stillage is declining as the supply of stillage continues to increase.

The Beam Institute partnered with the Kentucky Distillers' Association, Team Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Distillers Grain Technology Council, KY Innovation, Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and innovation incubated to sponsor the Distillers Grains Reverse Pitch. Through this effort, the collaborators sought new and innovative technologies and solutions from problem solvers, inventors, entrepreneurs, and businesses to expand uses of stillage.

The top six solutions from innovators and entrepreneurs presented their creative ideas at the Distillers Grains Symposium, where a judging panel decided the winner.

First place was given to BioProducts, a Louisville-based company won the Distillers Grains Reverse Pitch contest. BioProducts, founded by CEO Jagannadh Satyavolu, partnered with C&I Engineering Inc., another Louisville company, for its pitch. Satyavolu said by using whole stillage, which is mostly water, there's an opportunity to produce at least three profitable products.

"One of those is activated carbon, which is the preferred electrode material in supercapacitors, asymmetric batteries, and a variety of advanced batteries because of its high surface area and high purity. Imagine utilizing a Kentucky-grown technology, utilizing Kentucky's own resources of stillage to produce activated carbon for the battery application," Satyavolu said.

Fiber in the whole stillage can also be used to make xylose, a diabetic-friendly sugar substitute, while the protein can be used in animal feed, added Satyavolu. According to BioProduct's projections, with 75,000 gallons a day of whole stillage, those three streams could produce $2.5 million in annual revenue.

Berron said some low-tech solutions are already in play, and research within the university is already very multidisciplinary and comes from many colleges across campus. As for the reverse pitch contest, he said they were looking forward to all the submissions. "We can't wait to work with these folks and share our work with the state's distilleries."

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