Ethanol stalks

Could corn leaves and stalks be turned into products that are just as valuable as the golden kernel?


A new variety of corn developed and patented by Michigan State University scientists could turn corn leaves and stalks into products that are just as valuable as the golden kernels.


Today, most US ethanol is made from corn kernels. This is because breaking down the cellulose in corn leaves and stalks into sugars that can be fermented into ethanol is difficult and expensive.


‘We’ve developed two generations of Spartan Corn,’ said Mariam Sticklen, MSU professor of crop and soil sciences. ‘Both corn varieties contain the enzymes necessary to break down cellulose and hemicellulose into simple sugars in their leaves. This will allow for more cost-effective, efficient production of ethanol.’


‘In the future, corn growers will be able to sell their corn stalks and leaves as well as their corn grain for ethanol production,’ Sticklen said. ‘What is now a waste product will become an economically viable commodity.’


The research was supported by Edenspace Systems, the US Department of Energy, the Consortium for Plant Biotechnology Research, the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan and the MSU Research Excellence Program.