Make Sustainable Chemicals with Corn

corn plants

Why this challenge?

Field corn production in the United States has increased from 4.2 billion bushels/year (a bushel is ca. 36 liters) in 1970 to 13.6 billion bushels/year in 2015.  As of 2017, there is a field corn surplus of 1.8 billion bushels.  Farmers’ continued efficient production drives the need for new uses for field corn.

The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) strategic plan includes a goal to establish three new uses that each utilize 25 million bushels or more by 2020.

Field corn production makes incredible contributions to human nutrition as a primary source of feed for cattle, hogs and poultry; to cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gases as the source of ethanol fuel; and to the economy.

The “Consider Corn Challenge” invited innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists and academics to find new uses for field corn by exploring how field corn can be used as a feedstock for making sustainable chemicals and accelerating society’s shift to a thriving bio-based community.


The six winners of the first “Consider Corn Challenge” shared a total prize pool of up to $150,000 in the form of up to 6 prizes of $25,000 each.

The winners focused their responses on methods to make chemicals and polymer precursors from renewable corn, enabling corn growers to supply starting materials typically derived from petroleum and eventually producing consumer goods more sustainably.

For instance, one of the winners, Lygos, Inc., produces from corn sugar a Bio-Malonic™ acid used for acrylic-like polymers for composites, coatings, adhesives, pharmaceuticals.

Since then, Lygos, Inc. has been able to secure $15.5 million of Series B financing to accelerate commercialization of Bio-Malonic™ acid and other bio-products.

NCGA lauched in 2018 a second Challenge to end in the course of 2019.


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