Corn Growers Group Launches Innovation Challenge

The National Corn Growers Association is relying on some friendly competition to crowdsource innovative ways to use corn products.

With the U.S. sitting on a field corn surplus of 1.8 billion bushels, the National Corn Growers Association is hosting a global open innovation challenge to explore new solutions for turning the crop into bio-sustainable chemicals and molecules.

“We want to target new innovations that offer added margin to our producers, and we felt that going into the bio-sustainable molecule, biochemical market represents that opportunity for producers,” NCGA Director of Market Development Jim Bauman said.

Specifically, the “Consider Corn Challenge,” created with vendor and innovation facilitator NineSigma, aims to collect new conversion processes. “Whether it’s a corn kernel, whether it is a product of corn, such as corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, or ethanol even—how are you going to take that starting feedstock and convert it into a new molecule, a new bio-based molecule that can be used in chemistry to make a product going forward?”

Before the challenge opened on June 7, NCGA conducted preliminary outreach to raise awareness about the challenge. Bauman said that they’ve already garnered interested from academia, namely university researchers, and members of the corn industry. The main goal of using an open challenge was to crowdsource ideas from outside their usual partners and contacts.

“We’ve now viewed a need to expand above and beyond those existing relationships, that we have to take it into a global level to find new ideas that may be out there that we’re not currently interacting with on a day-to-day basis,” he said. As a commodity-focused organization, “it’s very important that we’re using our dollars as widely as possible and looking at all angles and all opportunities that may be able to add value to our growers.”

In addition, the challenge may also encourage scientists and researchers who hadn’t been previously working with corn products for their businesses or projects to consider doing so.

Contestants can submit their process ideas online through September 28. A panel will then select winners based on the projects’ feasibility and potential long-term economic impact. NCGA will distribute a total of $150,000 in prizes—with up to 6 winners receiving $25,000—and will announce the winners at its 2018 Commodity Classic convention and tradeshow.

“Corn has a history of being an abundant, cost-effective, and sustainable feedstock for chemicals used in thousands of products. This challenge is geared to inspire new concepts, approaches, and technologies that will help drive innovation,” Larry Hoffmann, a farmer and chairman of NCGA’s Corn Productivity and Quality Action Team, said in a press release. “In addition to researchers who have increased the spectrum of renewable chemicals from corn to date, we are reaching out to the global innovation community that is largely untapped regarding new product frontiers for corn.”


Alex Beall

By Alex Beall

Alex Beall is an associate editor for Associations Now with a masters in journalism and a penchant for Instagram. MORE

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