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For Refiners, Ethanol Could Mean Faster Gluten / February 25, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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For Refiners, Ethanol Could Mean Faster Gluten

By Marcia Wood
February 25, 1998

Ethanol, besides making your car less polluting, could get a new, environmentally friendly job in the milling industry.

Agricultural Research Service scientists say ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol, is key to an experimental process that should let grain refiners use less water and energy to separate wheat flour into gluten and flour's other primary component, starch.

Gluten is flour's protein-containing ingredient. Adding extra gluten to dough helps heavy, whole- wheat breads rise and yields sandwich buns that are soft yet strong. Gluten also enriches protein content of breakfast cereals and pet foods.

The starch is used as a food thickener and in numerous industrial products from cosmetics to cardboard.

Ethanol is approved as a food ingredient by the Food and Drug Administration.

George H. Robertson and Trung K. Cao developed the new separation process at ARS' Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif.

The method would take half the time of the conventional approach. The older technology requires large amounts of water that must be expensively treated before it can be discharged. But preliminary lab tests suggest that the new process needs much less water, and that virtually all of it, as well as nearly all of the ethanol, can be directly reused.

What's more, lab tests indicate gluten derived from the ethanol process may be stronger than water-separated gluten. Too, the new process uses a lower temperature to dry the gluten. This saves energy while protecting the flour's protein strength and other qualities.

ARS is applying for a patent on the process. An article about it appears in the February issue of ARS' Agricultural Research magazine. The article is also on the World Wide Web at:

http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/feb98/whea0298.htm

Scientific contact: George H. Robertson, USDA-ARS Western Regional Research Center, Process Chemistry and Engineering Research Unit, 800 Buchanan St., Albany, CA 94710, phone (510) 559- 5621, fax (510) 559-5818, grobertson@pw.usda.gov.

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