The corn based dry grind process is the most widely used method in the US for fuel ethanol production. Fermentation of corn to ethanol produces whole stillage after ethanol is removed by distillation. It is centrifuged to separate thin stillage from wet grains. Thin stillage contains 5-10% solids. To concentrate solids of thin stillage, it requires evaporation of large amounts of water and maintenance of evaporators. Evaporator maintenance requires excess evaporator capacity at the facility, increasing capital expenses, requiring plant slowdowns or shut downs and results in revenue losses. Membrane filtration is one method that could lead to improved value of thin stillage and may offer an alternative to evaporation. Fractionation of thin stillage using ultrafiltration was conducted to evaluate membranes as an alternative to evaporators in the ethanol industry. Two regenerated cellulose membranes with molecular weight cut offs of 10 and 100 kDa were evaluated. Total solids (suspended and soluble) contents recovered through membrane separation process were similar to those from commercial evaporators. Permeate flux decline of thin stillage using a resistance in series model was determined. Each of the four components of total resistance was evaluated experimentally. Effects of operating variables such as transmembrane pressure and temperature on permeate flux rate and resistances were determined and optimum conditions for maximum flux rates were evaluated. Model equations were developed to evaluate the resistance components that are responsible for fouling and to predict total flux decline with respect to time. Modeling results were in agreement with experimental results (R 2 > 0.98).
- Thin stillage
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