FL Researchers Look to Sweet Sorghum for Ethanol

sweet_sorghumA partnership between a university and a private company is researching using sweet sorghum for ethanol. This story from Ethanol Producer Magazine says U.S. EnviroFuels LLC and the University of Florida could use the technology in the company’s 30 MMgy advanced ethanol plant under construction in Florida.

A research team from the University of Florida was awarded a four-year, $5.4 million USDA grant to study the crop’s potential as an energy source earlier in May. Multiple varieties will be developed and assessed, looking at water consumption needs, growth in Florida soil, heat tolerance and the tolerance to disease and pests. Cellulosic ethanol will also be produced using a genetically engineered bacteria developed at the University of Florida.

The research project is good news for the proposed ethanol plant, which is behind schedule for construction and startup, said Bradley Krohn, president and chief technical officer of U.S. EnviroFuels, founder and project manager of Highlands EnviroFuels LLC. “Any R&D program that develops commercial sweet sorghum hybrids and improves the performance of sweet sorghum from a tonnage and sugar production standpoint will help the ethanol plant project going forward,” he said.

Sugarcane is the usual feedstock for the plant, but the company wants to use the sweet sorghum during sugarcane’s off season.

Pacific Successfully Produces Sorghum Ethanol

Yesterday the EPA announced that grain sorghum is now an official pathway for a renewable fuel under the RFS. Currently, Pacific Ethanol has successfully produced ethanol from sorghum feedstock that was bred by Chromatin. According to Chromatin, this achievement paves the way for future opportunities to use locally grown sorghum as a versatile and resilient crop that is a more energy efficient and lower cost alternative to corn. Due to the positive results, Chromatin plans to expand its sorghum acres in 2013.

R Mussi Farms of Stockton, CA produced 40 acres of sorghum that were harvested and delivered to Pacific Ethanol’s ethanol production plant in Stockton, CA. “We were pleasantly surprised by sorghum’s flexibility. It’s a high-yielding, easy to grow crop regardless of environmental conditions, and it uses less fertilizer and less water than corn,” said Rudy Mussi co-owner of Mussi Farms.

Daphne Preuss, Chromatin’s CEO noted that growers were able to plant and produce high quality sorghum with minimal modifications to their current practices. He also commented that Pacific’s ethanol plants encountered no difficulties when substituting sorghum for corn. Additionally, he said the residue left over after the harvest of sorghum grain can be used as high quality animal feed.

Although sorghum imported from other regions has been used in California ethanol plants in the past, Chromatin’s program is the first instance of supplying locally grown grain to the Pacific Ethanol plant in Stockton, CA. Initial results show greater cost efficiency and an improved carbon footprint.

“During the third quarter, Pacific Ethanol used sorghum for approximately 30 percent of the feedstock at our Stockton plant,” added Neil Koehler, CEO of Pacific Ethanol. Blended with corn, sorghum has similar conversion properties to corn and produces even lower carbon ethanol.”

EPA Approves RFS Path for Grain Sorghum

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just announced it’s approval of grain sorghum as an approved pathway for a renewable fuel as part of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). According to EPA, ethanol produced from grain sorghum emits 32 percent less greenhouse gas than the baseline petroleum it replaces and uses one-third less water than some other biofuel feedstocks.

The EPA report states: “EPA’s analysis indicates that ethanol made from grain sorghum at dry mill facilities that use natural gas for process energy meets the lifecycle GHG emissions reduction threshold of 20% compared to the  baseline petroleum fuel it would replace, and therefore qualifies as a renewable fuel. It also contains our regulatory determination that  grain sorghum ethanol produced at dry mill facilities using specified forms of biogas for both process energy and most electricity production, has lifecycle GHG emission reductions of more than 50% compared to the baseline petroleum fuel it would replace, and that such grain sorghum ethanol qualifies as an advanced biofuel under the RFS program.

Bill Kubecka, chairman of the Sorghum Checkoff and a sorghum producer from Palacios, Texas said, “This is a significant step forward for the sorghum industry. This pathway for grain sorghum will make sorghum a more profitable biofuel feedstock for the renewables industry, thus increasing the value and demand for sorghum.”

The EPA’s ruling further affirms the Sorghum Checkoff’s belief that grain sorghum is a feedstock perfectly suited for starch-based ethanol production.

“We believe this new opportunity to produce advanced biofuel will increase demand for the crop and lead to greater profitability for producers across the nation,” added Sorghum Checkoff Renewables Director, John Duff. “Furthermore, it gives us great pride that these producers will play a key role in supplying homegrown advanced biofuel, and we look forward to supporting them in these efforts going forward.”

World Grain Buyers Get US Producer Perspectives

Grain buyers from around the world in attendance at the 2012 Export Exchange had the opportunity to embrace the US producers perspective on the 2012 crop through a producer panel during the opening general session. Key panelists were Ron Gray, Illinois farmer and Secretary/Treasurer of the US Grains Council, and John Mages, Minnesota farmer and Chairman of the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council.

They shared their personal experiences overcoming the 2012 drought and assured buyers of their fight and passion to raise a consistent and quality product.

Listen to the entire Producers Panel here: Producer Panel at Export Exchange

Following the opening session I took the time to talk with Ron Gray, where he summed up the 2012 corn crop and how farming for him is more than a job, its a personal endeavor.

“For us the 2012 crop started out with all the hope of an extraordinary crop. We planted early, the crop went in very well, emergence was good. Then it didn’t rain. Beginning the second week of May through the first week of August we only had about three inches of total rainfall and because of that our corn crop was severely reduced in production. Our farm probably averaged 50 bushels an acre, which is approximately 1/3 of our normal production. The rainfall did come later and the soybean crop is a fairly good crop, but the corn crop was devastated.”

Listen to my interview with Ron here: Ron Gray Interview

Beyond simply listening to producers, international grain buyers had the opportunity to visit farms across the United States. The goal was to gain information, assess the current US corn crop, explore the availability of other grains such as sorghum and barley, and build relationships leading to future sales.

Many participants expressed a preference for buying US grains due to the consistency and quality of the grain. They also appreciate the transparency and reliability of the US marketing and delivery systems. Clearly price and availability hindered US exports this year, but buyers are looking forward to a better crop next year.

You can find photos from this years Export Exchange here: 2012 Export Exchange

Industry Launches “Fuels America” Campaign

In the face of increasing calls to waive the nation’s Renewable Fuel Standard, biofuel industry stakeholders today announced a major new communications campaign to educate consumers and policy makers about the benefits of renewable fuel to America’s economy, energy security and environment.

The new coalition – Fuels America – includes renewable fuel, national security, renewable energy and other stakeholders. Among those who are part of the coalition are Growth Energy, the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) and the Advanced Ethanol Council (AEC). A number of biofuel companies are also members, such as Abengoa, DuPont, POET and Novozymes.

The Fuels America campaign will be a national effort, including advertising, beginning in Washington, DC and several states, including Colorado, Ohio, Delaware and Montana. Each state will have its own online platform reachable through FuelsAmerica.org and feature the stories of renewable fuel innovators and communities with a stake in maintaining the RFS. The coalition also has a Twitter feed @FuelsAmerica.

A telephone press conference was held this morning to announce the new coalition and campaign with BIO president and CEO Jim Greenwood, Novozymes president Adam Monroe, Marion (Ohio) Chamber of Commerce president Pam Hall, and ZeaChem president and CEO Jim Imbler.

Listen to or download that press conference, which starts with comments from Jim Greenwood: Fuels America press conference

Press conference Q and A: Fuels America press conference Q&A

Sweet Sorghum Leading Southern Bioenergy Crop

A lot of research has gone into studying sweet sorghum’s potential as a bioenergy crop. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has found that there are several attributes of the feedstock that make it uniquely suited to produce biofuels. One assest is its lower need for water, making it an ideal crop to grow in drought prevalent areas. In addition, it has low nitrogen fertilizer requirements and high biomass content. This according to molecular biologist Scott Sattler and Jeff Pedersen with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Sweet sorghum produces sugar that can be converted to biofuel. The fibers in the feedstock left over after the juice is extracted can be burned to create electricity. Sorghum and sugarcane are good crops for the southeastern part of the U.S. because they are complementary crops and can extend the biofuel production season. Both feedstocks also use the same equipment so a grower would not need to invest in new technology to plant or harvest either crop.

The sweet sorghum research is part of USDA’s work in studying biofuel crops to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) mandate of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022. Of this total, 21 billion gallons will come from sources other than grain-based ethanol, of which sweet sorghum is one possible feedstock.

Other teams are also studying sweet sorghum including a group led by geneticist William Anderson with the ARS Crop Genetics and Breeding Research Unit in Tifton, Georgia. This team is working on identifying desirable bioenergy genes and working on improving them. To date, the team has studied 117 genotypes from the ARS sorghum germplasm collection with more research underway.

New Sorghum Renewables Program Director Named

John Duff has been named renewables program director for The United Sorghum Checkoff Program (USCP).
Duff, a native of Levelland, Texas, has previously served as an intern for U.S. Representatives Randy Neugebauer and Kevin Brady, as well as with Combest, Sell and Associates. Duff also held an internship for USDA’s Economic Research Service where he managed data on a project examining the impacts of bilateral free trade agreements on agricultural trade.

Duff’s family farms near Levelland and remains involved in Levelland/Hockley County Ethanol LLC.

“Renewables have become a valuable sector of the sorghum industry,” said Bill Greving, USCP board member and chair of the Renewables Committee. “John’s leadership as renewables director will help create more opportunities for producers as this program moves forward. John will be a great asset to the Sorghum Checkoff as he brings with him a good deal of experience in working within the industry.”

First Sorghum Renewables Summit This Month

The Sorghum Checkoff is hosting the first ever Sorghum Renewables Summit April 19-20 in Denver.

SorghumThe summit will bring together the industry’s leading researchers and companies for an event focused on agronomics, composition, technology, corporate governance and more related to using sorghum as a feedstock for renewable fuels.

National Sorghum Producers chairman Terry Swanson, a grower from Colorado, says about one third of the sorghum crop is now used to make ethanol. “Biofuels are very important to us,” said Swanson. “We are helping with the security of our country.”

The event will include a number of speakers and panels as well as a tour of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado on April 19.

Get more information about the 2012 Sorghum Renewables Summit on the Sorghum Checkoff website.

Sorghum for Ethanol Increases

Early March is an important time for the agricultural industry when they come together for Commodity Classic. With the challenges facing both the ag and energy industries, which go hand-in-hand, Terry Swanson, Chairman of the National Sorghum Producers said, “We have to be unified.”

When compared to other commodities used to produce biofuels, sorghum growers are a relatively small group. Today, about one third of the sorghum crop is used to make ethanol. However, the industry is hoping to see that number grow. For this to happen, Swanson said they need to speak with one voice.

Swanson, who is a grower in Colorado, said that biofuels and the issues surrounding them, including the RFS, are very important. The RFS is the major driver of increased ethanol use in the U.S. today.

To learn more about sorghum and ethanol, listen to Chuck Zimmerman’s interview with Terry Swanson. Interview with Terry Swanson

DuPont and NexSteppe Team for New Bio Feedstocks

DuPontTwo companies have teamed up to develop advanced feedstocks for biofuels, biopower and biobased products.

The collaboration between DuPont and the bio-based firm NexSteppe will be working on new feedstocks for renewable energy, including sweet sorghum and high biomass sorghum hybrids.

dupontUnder the agreement, DuPont has made an equity investment in NexSteppe, and through its Pioneer Hi-Bred business, will provide knowledge, resources and advanced technologies to help the company accelerate the breeding and commercialization of new hybrids of these crops in the United States and Brazil.

“We’re using science-based innovation and collaboration to develop scalable, sustainable feedstock options for the biobased industries,” said John Bedbrook, vice president for DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology. “Collaborations like this one with NexSteppe will provide new opportunities for growers to address the rising demand for secure, environmentally sustainable and affordable alternatives to fossil fuels.”

Sorghum“Sorghum is a crop with significant genetic diversity and great potential that has received relatively little research attention and funding,” said Anna Rath, NexSteppe founder and CEO. “Combining DuPont’s world-class research and development capabilities with our industry knowledge, experienced team and singular focus, we will be able to rapidly improve the crop to produce feedstocks tailored to the needs of the biofuels, biopower and biobased products industries.”

Sorghum has many advantages as a feedstock. It is naturally tolerant to both drought and heat and can grow in marginal rainfall areas with a short growing season and the ability to work in crop rotation systems. Sweet sorghum can be used as a complement to sugarcane in existing Brazilian sugar to ethanol mills, and as a feedstock for advanced biofuels and other biobased products produced from sugars. High Biomass Sorghum is a high-yielding crop that can be used as a feedstock for biopower and cellulosic biofuels. DuPont, through its Industrial Biosciences business, operates and develops industrial processes that use sugar as a feedstock.

Sorghum Could be Aviation Biofuel Feedstock

SorghumLouisiana State University is getting $17 million from USDA to study how to turn sugar cane and sorghum into biofuels.

The project is one of the five announced yesterday by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, focused on developing aviation biofuels from various types of biomass. “We have an incredible opportunity to create thousands of new jobs and drive economic development in rural communities across America by continuing to build the framework for a competitively-priced, American-made biofuels industry,” said Vilsack. “Over the past two years, USDA has worked to help our nation develop a national biofuels economy that continues to help us out-innovate and out-compete the rest of the world while moving our nation toward a clean energy economy.”

Through new and existing industrial partnerships, this project will use energy cane and sorghum to help reinvigorate the Louisiana sugar and chemical industries.

SorghumThis new project is in addition to a study funded this year at LSU by the Sorghum Checkoff to demonstrate sweet sorghum’s potential for significant yield in a relatively short growing period and its ability to be a steady feedstock supply for biorefineries through improved production management.

“Results from these studies would provide information producers need to most effectively plant and harvest sweet sorghum,” said Kun Jun Han, LSU sweet sorghum specialist. “It would also be useful to biofuel industry personnel when considering site locations, as well as local community leaders working to encourage biorefineries to locate in their area.”

Han said the study will investigate a wide range of planting dates for sweet sorghum to determine the impact on biofuel properties, such as biomass yield, sugar yield and fermentable sugar composition.

From mid-March to May 2011, sweet sorghum was planted at two-week intervals and again during June and July. Some sweet sorghum will be harvested in the early seedhead development stage, which should allow for multiple harvests per year. Meanwhile, other sorghum plants will be harvested at the more traditional stage of late seed development. Results from both harvests will be studied to find which is most effective.

Read more.

Chromatin Sorghum Hybrids Topping the Charts

In 2010 biomass and sugar testing programs, Chromatin sorghum hybrids have demonstrated top performance when compared to other materials from public, private and commercial sorghum collections. This according to a company press release. Chromatin is a biotechnology company and its subsidiary, Sorghum Partners, LLC, sells sorghum seed products to growers.

Several trials were conducted. In the first trial, 50 biomass sorghum hybrids were planted in four replicate plots and tested for total yield, moisture, energy, and ash content. In a second trial, Chromatin tested 50 types of sweet sorghum, measuring total biomass yield and fermentable carbohydrate in harvested juice. The results of the trials have indicated that Chromatin’s hybrids provide the three top-yielding biomass sorghum hybrids. In addition, these hybrids also demonstrated very high energy content (BTU’s), low ash content and low moisture retention. Another notable characteristic – several of the company’s hybrid’s generated more fermentable sugar per acre than many of the competitors.

“These results are highly significant,” said Dave Jessen, Chromatin’s CTO. “With a range in the biomass testing program of 18.8 to 4.3 dry tons per acre (entry mean = 10.6), we are very confident that our best materials will deliver superior biomass yields. Further, two of our sorghum hybrids have sugar yields per acre that surpass many sweet sorghum cultivars that are used today.”

While the test were conducted in small scale, Jessen is confident that the company’s hybrids will still perform as well on larger scale tests.

“These tests show that our biomass has a combination of qualities that are high priority for thermochemical processors, and that our sweet sorghum provide solutions that can meet today’s growing demand for soluble sugar,” said Daphne Preuss, CEO of Chromatin. “BTU values ranged over $1000 / acre between the biomass at the extremes in the trial. This clearly shows that a key economic driver for cleantech projects will be the ability to access a high-performance feedstock.”

Sugarcane Promising Source for Energy in California

California Ethanol & Power (CE&P) has commissioned a study to better understand the role sugarcane and sweet sorghum may play in producing ethanol and electricity for the state of California. The Economic Impact Analysis report was conducted by Solution Mountain, Inc., and sponsored in part by the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation along with the California Association for Local Economic Development. The goal of the report was to ascertain the economic relationship of construction-related activities and ongoing business operations with respect to jobs, gross economic output, capital income and taxes as part of CE&P’s sugarcane and sweet sorghum-to-ethanol and electricity program.

“CE&P will provide substantial economic stimulus and benefits to Imperial County, CA, which has recently shown the highest unemployment rate and lowest economic health rating in the U.S,” said Dave Rubenstein, Chief Operating Officer.

According to the analysis, the estimated benefits, measured through the construction phases and the first year of operation of CE&P’s initial plant are $946 million of gross economic output, $562 million of gross county product, $334 million of total labor income, 8,847 full and part time direct and indirect jobs, capital income of $182 million, and indirect business taxes and fees totaling $46 million, with a projected total five-year impact of more than $2 billion.

CE&P’s business strategy is to own and operate facilities that will convert sugarcane grown year round on 40,000 acres and seasonally gown sweet sorghum on 30,000 acres producing 55 million gallons of ethanol, 40.9 megawatts of electricity, and 880 million cubic feet of bio-methane per year.


Registration Open for Commodity Classic

Registration is now open for the 16th Annual Commodity Classic in Tampa, March 3-5.

The annual event will be “smooth sailing” for soybean, corn, wheat and sorghum farmers and biofuels will be a big part of the event, as always.

Growers who attend the 2011 Commodity Classic are sure to benefit from the value of attending a trade show with more than 800 booths representing today’s leading agricultural equipment, technology, product and service companies and organizations.

“While enjoying the warm Florida sun, one can learn of new products and methods to increase the profitability of their farm,” said Commodity Classic Co-Chair Charles Cannatella. “As a producer of all the commodities represented at Commodity Classic, I look forward to attending the policy development sessions. A grower can strengthen his industry by helping to set policy.”

Special entertainment at Classic this year is Little River Band and the jam-packed schedule includes educational sessions, technology demonstrations, association banquets, entertainment events and important networking opportunities.

New Process for Sorghum Ethanol

A Cincinnati-based advanced biofuel technology company has announced the development of its next generation, sugar-based fuel ethanol process.

According to AdvanceBio LLC, the process is capable of utilizing sugars derived from sugar cane, sweet sorghum, sugar beet and other similar crops as feedstock for the production of fuel ethanol and green power while generating zero liquid waste.

SorghumWhen built in conjunction with the sugar milling operation, plants employing AdvanceBio’s sugar-based ethanol process will have the same, low-greenhouse gas footprint found in Brazil’s existing cane-based fuel ethanol industry. “The facilities will be extremely self-sufficient. In addition to eliminating costs associated with outside sources of fossil fuels, power and process water, our technology eliminates the need for extensive waste treatment processes and the cost of transporting large volumes of liquid vinasse back to the cane fields. These ethanol production facilities will also meet stringent U.S. pollution and occupational safety regulations,” said Dale Monceaux, Principal.

AdvanceBio envisions that producing fuel ethanol by processing cane and sweet sorghum feedstocks will serve to supplement corn as the country transitions to cellulosic ethanol and beyond. Currently, U.S. legislation establishes a Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) requiring the production of 36 billion gpy of renewable fuels by 2022. Of this total, 15 billion gpy is designated as a cellulosic ethanol requirement.

Read more here.