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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Move Aside Corn Ethanol - Sweet Sorghum Being Engineered as a New Biofuel

Move Aside Corn Ethanol - Sweet Sorghum Being Engineered as a New Biofuel

This is one to take seriously.  A deal has been made by Pioneer Hybrids, the corn seed company started by the Vice President back in one of Roosevelt’s terms, Henry A. Wallace who introduced hybrid corn seed and started the green revolution we and billions of other people rely on for food today.

Sweet Sorghum
Sweet Sorghum at an Oklahoma State U. Test Plot.

Now a division of DuPont, Pioneer has entered into a deal with NexSteppe for collaboration in developing sorghum varieties.  The expectation for expert observers is that the collaboration is meant to bring a new high-yield crop to growers, or hybridize a crop that has worked spectacularly well elsewhere to work in localized conditions.

Sweet sorghum is a versatile crop.  It may be destined as a rotation crop, or used in place of cover crops to bring in a second economically valued harvest.  Sweet sorghum hybrids could be high biomass hybrids in order to create additional feedstock options for biofuels, biopower and biobased products.

The deal is Pioneer has made an equity investment in NexSteppe and will provide knowledge, resources and advanced technologies to help NexSteppe accelerate the breeding and commercialization of new hybrids of these crops in the United States and Brazil.  That’s a deal in Iowa.

In Illinois U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s Plants Engineered to Replace Oil program has awarded a $5.7 million dollar contract to Chromatin, Inc.

The U.S. DOE contract is to fund a three-year program to develop new varieties of sweet sorghum for use as an energy-rich, low cost feedstock for transportation fuels. Chromatin is working to develop non-food varieties of sorghum that have higher energy content to produce low-cost and renewable transportation fuel, high value chemicals and a high-BTU source of bio-oil. Sweet sorghum can produce very high biomass yields with less water and fewer chemical inputs than major food crops and is grown on land that is not devoted to food production.

Hybrid sweet sorghum is expected to produce both sugar and higher yields of biomass.  Forecasts propose it can be planted on dry marginal pastureland, and because it has a short growing season it should suitable for crop rotation with other crops, perhaps wheat another dry land grains.

Native sorghum is naturally drought and heat-tolerant and has the ability to grow in marginal rainfall areas with high temperatures where it is difficult to grow other crops.  From central Texas up through Oklahoma where a drought is underway sweet sorghum may offer a better cash income than pasture and could double up the income from wheat.

You may have noticed that the Pioneer/NexSteppe deal is also looking to Brazil. 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 bio-based products produced from sugars.

DuPont has another motive as well, its Industrial Biosciences business, operates and develops industrial processes that use sugar as a feedstock.

Just last month NexSteppe announced it had raised $14 million in its second round of funding. The company said then that it would use the proceeds from the round to scale up its sweet sorghum, high biomass sorghum and switchgrass breeding programs, and to advance its first products toward commercialization.

The food vs. fuel debate has died down for now.  The U.S. is exporting ethanol to eager customers as those markets learn that ethanol is a top-flight gasoline extender.  The tired arguments run by the liars that figure have pretty much collapsed by real world numbers whose figures show ethanol added to gasoline is becoming a world-wide phenomena.

A worldwide ethanol additive at 10% could eventually shave 4 to 5 million barrels a day from crude oil demand.  It also a number than can grow.

Soon there will be little doubt that the infrastructure for fueling ethanol fuel cells is in place ready for the technology.

Meanwhile, sweet sorghum has better tolerance for more marginal land than corn, and a far wider growing region than sugar cane, which is only tropical.  The ethanol market is getting another crop that should take out the feedstock worry of unavailable, unaffordable unsustainable or unreliable.
E-10 to E-85 are about to become worldwide choices for transport fuel.

By. Brian Westenhaus

Source: A Crop to Replace Corn Ethanol Development




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