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Fuel To Fight World Hunger

August 2, 2010, 10:05 PM by Cherlene Richards

Fuel To Fight World Hunger
BROOKINGS, SD - Researchers in KELOLAND are garnering national attention. The Wall Street Journal and a national ethanol magazine have featured food scientists at South Dakota State University.

Researchers are joining the fight against world hunger by tapping into a local renewable resource. Every year, ethanol plants in South Dakota produce more than a billion gallons of fuel. There are 16 ethanol plants in the state, and with the concerns about oil bringing renewable energy into the spotlight, supporters hope the industry will only grow. But ethanol producers might soon be able to fuel our cars and put food on the table.

“The question to me is, how do you use DDG? We're using it for livestock; how do we use it for food?” food scientist Padmanaban Krishnan said.

Krishnan's spent 20 years testing and researching, and he finally has the answer to that question. When corn is made into ethanol, DDG is a byproduct left behind. It stands for Distillers Dried Grains, and it's being used to feed livestock. But now Krishnan says DDG has even more possibilities.

“We can use every part of the corn that's being used, then the cost of production of ethanol is cheaper,” Krishnan said.

Krishnan says his team's baking DDG into real food. They're refining it and adding it to flatbread recipes.

“If I sneak it in, a little bit at a time, in a whole host of product, then we're going to increase the fiber content and the protein content,” Krishnan said.

They started the project with Naan and Chapati breads, which are common in South Asian countries. Krishnan says DDG is high in fiber and protein, and by using it instead of some of the flour, the bread has more nutritional value. That could make a big difference for developing countries. The project won first place when graduate student Sowmya Arra entered the Institute for Food Technologies conference last summer. She says it's been a roller coaster for the research ever since.

“I think it's going to boom the food industry and food world,” Arra said.

Arra is from India and says the DDG naan breads they bake here could easily help thousands of people back home.

By switching out 10 percent of the flour in Chapati with DDG, it boosts the bread's fiber from almost 3 percent to nearly 8 percent and the protein increases about 2.5 percent. Krishnan says a 20 percent mix in the dough is even healthier.

“We've had many disasters, so we know exactly how much to push.  I know the perfect limit for bread will be 20 percent.  In a tortilla, Chapati, or Asian noodle, it'll be a little bit higher,” Krishnan said.

The project is gaining momentum, and perhaps within the next decade we could be baking and buying meals made with Distillers Dried Grains.

“I am confident that it will eventually go to market,” Krishnan said.

Krishnan is confident in his life's mission, and Arra hopes others believe in her professor's research and their hard work.

“I'm feeling so happy for this; I didn't expect all this things,” Arra said.

Researchers believe the success of the project could open everyone's eyes to the value of our corn, and it could help ethanol producers and farmers in South Dakota. Krishnan believes his research holds the key.

“The idea is, how do you get the best bang for the buck?  So it's about efficiency,” Krishnan said.

Efficiency that can feed the world.

Nationally, more than 40,000 tons of DDG will be produced this year.  Several organizations, including the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, support the DDG project.

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