Corn is an abundant, affordable, and sustainable industrial feedstock. Test your knowledge about the US corn-based chemical industry.
start Quiz here
1. How much corn does the US produce each year?
A) 1,100 million metric tons
B) 360 million metric tons
C) 140 million metric tons
D) 5 million metric tons
The US produces a third of the 1,100 million metric tons of corn grown worldwide. To put the total in perspective, 1,100 million metric tons of corn would weigh more than 100,000 Eiffel Towers.
Sources: US Department of Agriculture; US Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center.
2. Which part of the corn kernel is used to make ethanol fuel?
D) Tip cap
The endosperm consists of starches that get fermented to make ethanol. The rest of the kernel, which contains fibers, oils and proteins, is also useful. The remaining components of the kernel are turned into animal feed, known as dried distillers grains with solubles.
Sources: US Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center; US Energy Information Administration; Munir Cheryan, “Corn as a Chemical Feedstock,” faculty webpage, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; National Corn Growers Association “Corn as an Industrial Feedstock.”
3. Which of these common organic solvents is produced from corn?
D) All of the above
Acetone, butanol, and butanediol can be made through the fermentation of dextrose, the sugar obtained from cornstarch. In addition to serving as a solvent, butanediol is a feedstock for synthetic rubber.
Source: Munir Cheryan, “Corn as a Chemical Feedstock,” faculty web page, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
4. Which husband-and-wife pair of chemists developed a corn-based, cost-effective method for making polylactic acid (PLA) at home on their kitchen stove?
A) Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier
B) Gerty and Carl Cori
C) Isabella and Jerome Karle
D) Patrick and Sally Gruber
The Grubers developed a new method for making PLA in 1989 using cornstarch as a starting material. At the time of the innovation, Patrick worked for Cargill, though he later cofounded a company, NatureWorks, that focused on producing PLA on an industrial scale. PLA can be used in a variety of applications, including coatings for paper, plastic packaging, fibers, and biomedical materials like sutures and tissue scaffolds. It is also used in compostable single-use items such as disposable cups and plates.
Sources: Melody M. Bomgardner, “Patrick Gruber,” Chem. Eng. News; Elizabeth Royte, “Corn Plastic to the Rescue,” Smithsonian.
5. Corn oil is incorporated into skin care products because of the moisturizing properties of its high linoleic acid and vitamin E content. Corn oil also has a beneficial effect when applied to harvested cereals and beans by acting as a
C) Flavor additive
D) Moisture barrier
One study showed that applying corn oil to stored wheat killed 97% more granary weevils in one day versus the control. Corn oil represents a biobased alternative to traditional pesticides.
Sources: J. Dupont et al., “Food Uses and Health Effects of Corn Oil,” J. Am. Coll. Nutr.; Brian P. Baker and Jennifer A. Grant, Corn Oil Profile, New York State Integrated Pest Control Management.
6. Saponified starch-graft polymers synthesized from cornstarch and acrylonitrile form superabsorbent materials used in baby diapers, feminine hygiene products, and adult incontinence undergarments. Which functional group contributes to the ability of this material to retain water?
A) Carboxylic acid
Starch-graft polymers contain carboxylic acids, carboxylates, and amides. These hydrophilic groups attract and retain water through ionic- and hydrogen-bonding interactions, and allow the material to absorb more than 100 times its weight in liquid.
Sources: Sanjay V. Malhotra et al., Applications of Corn-Based Chemistry; Aigin Wang and Wenbo Wang, “Superabsorbent Materials,” Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology.
7. Which organic acid produced from corn is used in shampoos, conditioners, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals?
A) Citric acid
B) Carbonic acid
C) Lactic acid
D) Sulfuric acid
In 2016, most of the 2.1 million metric tons of citric acid was generated through the fermentation of sugar. In the US, most sugar comes from corn. About 70% of the citric acid is used in the food and beverage industry, 10% goes into cleaning agents, and 20% is consumed by the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.
Sources: Max Belén et al., “Biotechnological Production of Citric,” Braz. J. Microbiol.; Imarc Group, North American Citric Acid Market: Industry Trends, Share, Size, Growth, Opportunity and Forecast 2020-2025.
retake the Quiz
Share this quiz:
To learn more about the cutting-edge applications of corn and the Consider Corn Challenge, visit ncga.com/newuses
Check out this corny infographic to learn about the surprising uses of corn in dietary supplements