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Corn: From Animal Feed to Sweeteners to Biofuel

Team TFS
Team TFS
shutterstock_548294284Recently I had the opportunity to visit G&M farms located in Livermore, California.  I had never been on a corn farm before and this one had a maze with trivia questions posted to help navigate you to the exit. The trivia questions gave some interesting facts about corn which got me thinking about how we can test various corn products for integrity and contaminants and what a versatile commodity corn really is.

Corn has a wide array of usage in many different industries -- from food products that we all enjoy, to the production of biofuel to power our cars.  Did you know that corn is also used to make:

  • Batteries (cornstarch is often used as an electrical conductor)

  • Cosmetics and deodorants (corn starch)

  • Vitamins and medicines (corn starch is often used as a binder or tablet coating)

  • Cough drops and hard candy (corn syrup)corn1

  • Carpets

  • Plastics

  • Glue(corn starch)

  • Toothpaste

  • Paper

  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (used in many food and beverage products as a sweetener)

  • Ethanol fuel (Biofuel- corn is the main feedstock used for producing ethanol fuel in the United States)

  • And many more

With corn being used in many different industries, it definitely needs to be tested for integrity and contaminants and that is where Thermo Scientific instruments play a key role. Our instruments are used to test for pesticides in corn and corn products, and even sugar content in food and beverages and biofuel analysis. Testing solutions for each of these industries is critical.


It is important that pesticides used on crops like corn are controlled, regulated and monitored. Our chromatography and mass spectrometry systems allow scientists to drive quality results for pesticide analysis.

Read “Pesticide Residue Analysis: How Far Have We Come – and Where Are We Going?” for more on the future of pesticide residue analysis.

High Fructose Corn Syrup:

Since corn products like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are cheaper than other sugars, some products are adulterated with HFCS for economic reasons.  The Thermo Scientific EA IsoLink IRMS System can be used to determine if the food product contains high fructose corn syrup instead of other sugars like honey. Read this article for more.

Ion Chromatography is another technique for sugar analysis.  Electrochemical detection methods, such as HPAE-PAD, are selective and sensitive methods to directly determine carbohydrate concentrations without toxic and costly derivatization agents.

Learn more here.


Biofuel is a solid, liquid, or gas fuel derived from biological material. This broad-based class of biofuel compounds can be separated into two categories:

Bioalcohol comes from crops such as corn, sugar cane, wheat, sorghum, and cellulosic plants such as corn stover, wood, and grasses. With the exception of sorghum, these crops are not naturally high in sugars. However, the grains are high in starch, and the rest of the plant is rich in cellulose and hemicellulose. Making the cellulose more accessible to hydrolysis and solubilizing hemicelluloses sugars is currently difficult and expensive. The analytical challenge is quantifying the diverse mixture of sugars present in hemicellulose.

Biodiesel can be produced from plants that contain high amounts of oils, such as soybean, palm, or jatropha. It can also be made using algae. Algae, a single or multicellular plant, can be the source of both sugars for bioalcohol (such as ethanol and butanol) and oils for biodiesel where the need to quantify fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs) and trace contaminants are key to ensure final product quality.

Read more here: Process monitoring and analysis: biofuel 

Carbohydrate Determination of Biofuel Samples:

Biofuels have emerged as an attractive alternative to fossil fuel. The starches and sugars in plant/animal matter—are typically broken down by the application of heat and/or chemicals (pretreatment) followed by enzymatic digestion and fermentation. To maximize the biofuel yield, it is critical to quantify the released carbohydrates during biofuel production. A large number of samples must be analyzed during optimization of the biofuel production processes. Hence, there is a need for a fast, robust, accurate, and quantitative analytical method for carbohydrate determination of biomass samples.  High-performance anion-exchange chromatography with pulsed amperometric detection (HPAE-PAD) can be used for fast carbohydrate analysis.

Read more on this here.

As you can see corn is a very useful staple for many different industries and these industries rely on analytical instruments to detect for fraud and contaminants.  Thermo Scientific with its large product portfolio provides solutions for all your day to day challenges.