Determination of a sugarcorn to ethanol and co-products value chain

Principal Investigator

Brandon Gilroyed

Research Institution

University of Guelph

External Funding Partners

OMAFRA/University of Guelph partnership funding

Project Start

May 2015

Project End

April 2018


  • Compare southwestern Ontario field trial of new sugarcorn varieties to sugarcorn grown in Ottawa for sugar (sucrose) yield from sugarcorn stalk to sugar (starch) yield from sugarcorn grain under different harvest scenarios.
  • Evaluate sugarcorn as a substrate for bioconversion to ethanol.
  • Determine the best uses of sugarcorn press cake by evaluating: ensiling for animal feed; production of biogas via anaerobic digestion; and extraction of cellulosic sugars.
  • Evaluate storage of juice in ensiled intact stalks.
  • Calculate the economic potential of a sugarcorn crop to ethanol and co-products value chain.


  • Identifying a farm management system for sugarcorn that will produce optimum biomass and sugar yield will help establish the on-farm viability of this proposed sugarcorn value chain.
  • The economic evaluation of sugarcorn utilized for ethanol and sugarcorn press cake co-product will help establish a market for Ontario growers by finding the best uses for the entire plant, such as ensiling for use as animal feed.

Scientific Summary

The current model for sustainable biofuel production is the sugarcane sucrose to ethanol industry in Brazil. Ontario farmers cannot grow sugarcane, but are adept at growing corn. Corn, like sugarcane, is a C4 grass, efficient in utilizing water, nutrients and CO2 to convert solar energy into sugar which is ultimately harvested as grain starch. This project proposes to evaluate the use of a new corn feedstock, termed sugarcorn, in biofuel and co-product applications. Sugarcorn are corn varieties yielding high sucrose concentrations in their stalks. Sugarcorn is being developed at AAFC to have high yields of sucrose in stalk juice. Sugarcorn also produces grain, and one of the objectives is to compare sugar yields when the crop is grown for grain or stalk juice. Stalk juice may offer potential advantages including ease of handling via pumping and reduced energy and enzymatic needs in preparation for fermentation to ethanol. Implementing usage of sugary corn in Ontario requires demonstration of crop and sugar yields, conversion processes and ultimately the yield; and determination of value of the final product and co-products.

Sugarcorn is potentially an excellent feedstock for the Ontario ethanol industry. Because sucrose is directly fermentable by yeast, several of the expensive and energy-intensive pre-treatment processes associated with conventional grain ethanol can be eliminated. Four genotypes of sugarcorn grown in Ridgetown and in Ottawa were evaluated for production of sugar, height, total biomass, moisture content, and juice yield. Juice obtained from crushing corn stalks was analyzed for sugar composition and concentration, and then used as the carbon source for ethanol fermentation. Ensiled corn will be analyzed for feed properties and tested as a biogas production substrate. A final economic evaluation of sugarcorn will be conducted to determine the value of ethanol and co-products compared against production costs.