Fueling the Future with Sorghum

Hereford, TX – As the bioenergy industry is discovering, the most versatile feedstock for ethanol production is sorghum because of the crop’s unique fit and conversion value in all methods of converting biomass into fuel.

“As the world leader in sorghum, including bioenergy sorghums, Advanta is intimately involved in developing the biofuels industry worldwide,” says John Oppelt, Advanta US Manager of Business Development. “Although the starch-to-ethanol method of ethanol production using corn or grain sorghum has gained the lion’s share of agriculture’s attention to date, the sugar-to-ethanol and cellulosic ethanol methods hold the greatest advantage in conversion and green footprint.”

“Advanta is building upon the advantages of sorghum and currently is marketing hybrids we’ve developed for biofuel and bioenergy conversion around the world,” he continues. “Sorghum is the only crop offering multiple pathways to ethanol.”

Pathways or methods of ethanol production:

• Starch-to-ethanol. Grain sorghum conversion to ethanol is equal to corn. Today, about 15% of the U.S. grain sorghum crop currently goes into ethanol production, according to industry estimates.

• Sugar-to-ethanol from sweet sorghum. Conversion is similar to that of sugar cane, which is widely believed to be the best source of ethanol to date. The advantage that sweet sorghum enjoys is that three crops can be produced in tropical areas, such as South Florida, versus one crop of sugar cane per year, 18 months after planting.

• Cellulosic ethanol. No other crop or other cellulose source equals sorghum in conversion, production efficiency or ethanol gallons per acre. This process, which is currently being perfected, also draws on the versatility of sorghum. Supply channels for cellulosic ethanol include:

o Residue/regrowth from grain sorghum

o Forage sorghums

o Bagasse from sweet sorghum, and

o Dedicated biomass sorghums

Although to date, grain sorghum’s geographic adaptability has been restricted to warmer climates, sweet forage sorghums and sorghum sudangrasses can be planted in most regions of the country with impressive yields and sugar content. In addition, Advanta is developing sorghum cultivars with cold tolerance that will expand sorghum’s growth zones and early planting dates.

“Advanta is on the leading edge of biomass research with germplasm and technology that is unparalleled in scope,” says Oppelt. “North American growers will benefit from our global access to Advanta research and development programs in India, Australia, Thailand and Argentina.”

Sorghum trumps switchgrass

As a premier source of biomass to fuel cellulosic ethanol production, sorghum offers a number of benefits and advantages over switchgrass for biomass and conversion to ethanol:

• Lower water and fuel requirements

• Heat- and drought-tolerance

• High biomass yield

• Genetic diversity

• Adaptability