A team of Iowa State University scientists has used ultrasonic pre-treatment of corn to increase the release rates of sugars by nearly 30 percent.

The results of the laboratory experiment suggest each bushel of corn that goes into an ethanol plant could more efficiently produce ethanol for automobiles.

Iowa State Assistant Professor David Grewell says the experiment involved 20-kilohertz sound waves, too high for human hearing, but apparently greatly affecting a corn slurry that’s used to produce ethanol.

Samir Khanal, an Iowa State research assistant professor of environmental engineering, said the conventional dry-milling process that’s used to make ethanol doesn’t convert all the starch in corn kernels into the simple sugars that can be fermented into ethanol.

A team of Iowa State researchers has demonstrated that pre-treating milled corn with ultrasonics can break the corn pieces into even finer particles. That exposes more of the corn’s starch to the enzymes that convert starch to simple sugars.

The discovery has led to a patent application and a one-year provisional patent for immediate commercialization of the technology.

Earlier this week, other Iowa State scientists reported using mold to convert corn fiber into ethanol.