A high-protein fungi may offer feed alternative

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With feed prices at record highs, pork producers should always be on the lookout for alternative feed ingredients that can be substituted for corn and soybean meal. Under the right conditions, many unusual ingredients such as byproducts of fruit and vegetable processing, vegetable oil refining and egg and poultry processing can work when properly balanced in swine diets.

Iowa State University scientists have identified a new feed ingredient that may surprise you – fungus. Initial studies show a fungus grown in the leftovers of ethanol production could be a good energy feed for pigs.

In separate feeding trials, nursery pigs have eaten high-protein fungi that Hans van Leeuwen and his colleagues have produced in a pilot plant that converts ethanol leftovers into food-grade fungi.

So far in the feeding trials, researchers have found pig performance wasn’t impacted when dried fungi were substituted for corn or soybean meal, said Nicholas Gabler, an assistant professor of animal science. Researchers are still studying the effects of the feed on amino acid availability and intestinal health.

The fungi-production process was developed by a research team led by van Leeuwen, a professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering. The process has two patents pending and has won several major awards. It was recently named the global grand winner of the International Water Association’s 2012 Project Innovation Awards in Applied Research.

“It’s a great feeling,” van Leeuwen said of the latest award. “The International Water Association is the top water quality organization in the world. We were up against multi-million dollar projects and we’ve been working on a shoestring. To get this is as gratifying as winning an Olympic medal.”

Van Leeuwen and the research team have been working on their “MycoMeal” process for several years. It began as an idea to improve the dry-grind process used to produce ethanol from corn.

Here’s how the process works:

For every gallon of ethanol produced, there are about five gallons of leftovers known as stillage which contains solids and other organic material. Most of the solids are removed by centrifugation and dried into distillers dried grains that are sold as livestock feed, primarily for cattle.

The remaining liquid, known as thin stillage, still contains some solids plus a variety of organic compounds and enzymes. Because the compounds and solids can interfere with ethanol production, only about 50 percent of thin stillage can be recycled back into biofuel production. The rest is evaporated and blended with distillers dried grains.

The Iowa State researchers add fungus (Rhizopus microsporus) to the thin stillage and it feeds and grows into easily harvested pellets in less than a day. The fungus is then harvested and dried as animal feed that's rich in protein, certain essential amino acids, polyunsaturated oils and other nutrients. It can be blended with distillers dried grains to boost its value as a feed and make it more suitable for feeding hogs.

Van Leeuwen said the production technology can save United States ethanol producers up to $800 million a year in energy costs. He also said the technology can produce ethanol co-products worth another $800 million or more per year, depending on how it is used and marketed.

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