As many in the oil seed processing industry know, dehulling can be a valuable tool when it comes to maximizing profits in any oil mill. But what some might not know is that there are many ways this can be done and targeting minimal hulls in the meal is not necessarily the best approach.

Two salient facts jump out as soon as we start to consider the best way to look at dehulling. First, the hull is primarily fiber, which dilutes protein content in the meal and absorbs oil. Secondly, the higher the protein content in the meal, the better the price.

While this may seem like a no-brainer – just remove as much of the hull as possible and get top price for the meal – a more careful analysis shows that the answer is not straightforward, depending on the capacity being processed and both the capital cost of dehulling equipment and the operating costs of the system, as well as the price fluctuation relative to the fiber content of the meal.

A Careful Analysis

First, let’s look at the capital costs. In general, the more efficient the dehulling system, the more expensive it is to buy and operate, and the cheaper it will be to operate per ton of raw seed.

For these reasons, the more efficient dehulling systems require more steps to remove a higher percentage of hulls and minimize the amount of seed meats (portion where fat and protein is concentrated) that the system removes.  At low capacities the premium for the meal generated by a highly efficient dehulling system is more difficult to pay off due to economies of scale.  At large capacities the premium for higher protein content meal provides a quicker payback because of the higher capacities.

Additionally, a dehulling system for 2000 tons per day of seeds is not 10 times the price of a system for 200 TPD so as you go up in capacity the cost per ton goes down drastically.  This is another reason why highly efficient dehulling systems are not always ideal for low capacity plants.

Is this unfair? Not really, because even large operations might not see a better profit with a higher protein meal than a smaller firm would get with a lower protein meal. Let’s look at the big picture. I’ll use rough numbers in this example given the volatile pricing world of the oilseed industry, but let’s say one ton of meal consisting of 50 percent protein fetches $350, while another at 45 percent goes for $300. Meanwhile, one ton of fiber brings in only $80. In this case, a smaller manufacturer who has already spent less upfront for a smaller dehuller will earn more from the hulls left in the meal than if they removed them for individual sale, even though he’s not getting top price for the meal. And as most experienced processors will tell you, the cost of dehulling jumps significantly when the efficiency jumps from 70 percent to 90 percent hull removal.

Again, these numbers are highly subjective over time, so processors need to watch the markets in case the premium for higher protein meal increases significantly.

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Different Seeds, Different Results

Another mistake that many users of multi-seed processors make is thinking that a single de-hulling system is appropriate for all kinds of seeds — this is not necessarily true considering the wide variety of seeds out there, from soy and sesame to canola and hemp. Some hulls are more fibrous than others, some are thicker, some are harder and some are more attached to the seeds they protect. Soybean hulls, for example, only contribute about 6-7 percent of the total seed weight, so dehulling the meal is not likely to significantly impact profitability at lower capacities. All of this must be taken into consideration when deploying a new machine.

Even the type of process you use can impact the benefits of dehulling. Chemical processes tend to produce higher levels of protein content because they remove more oil than mechanical systems. But again, this will depend largely on the type of seed being processed and the volume.

Clearly, there is a lot more to consider with dehulling than “hulls are bad, so removing them is good.” When processing, pricing, costs and other factors are subject to such broad gyrations as in the industry, a smart processor will run the numbers to ensure that they are achieving maximum profitability from their raw materials.

And that calculation should start with determining what type of equipment provides optimal results for each and every operation.

Want to know more about oilseed crush plants and a typical project cycle from realization to project management support? Download our brochure, Oilseed Processing Systems from Design to Delivery.