October 4 , 07
New 20’ Tall Sorghum: 4x Greater Yield for Ethanol than Corn

Ceres Inc. and Texas A&M University have entered into a joint multi-year agreement to develop new strains of cane sorghum that are specifically designed for cellulosic biofuels production.

Virtually all U.S. ethanol is currently produced through the fermentation of grain, but Ceres vice president Peter Mascia said in a press release Monday the greatest potential for biofuel production will come as new technologies arise that allow ethanol to be produced from carbohydrates comprising plant stalks, stems and leaves, called cellulose.

"As these technologies mature, farmers will transition from growing as much grain per acre, to producing as much biomass as they can per acre, with as little energy and agronomic inputs as possible. This means new crops and specialized hybrids like these high-biomass sorghum types will be needed," Mascia said.

As part of this agreement, Ceres will obtain exclusive commercialization rights to high-biomass sorghum hybrids developed by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station of The Texas A&M University System.

Texas A&M plant scientist Bill Rooney - a pioneer in developing high-biomass sorghum - says the crop is nearly ideal for cellulosic biofuels.

"Sorghum produces high yields, is naturally drought-tolerant and can thrive in places that do not support corn and other food crops. Sorghum also fits into established production systems and is harvested the year it is planted, unlike perennial grasses, so it fits well in a crop-mix with perennial species and existing crops, like cotton," said Rooney in the release.

Rooney's first breeding lines - the precursors to hybrids - can grow to almost 20 feet under favorable weather conditions and could produce more than 2,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, more than four times as much as a conventional cornstarch-to-ethanol process.

President George W. Bush - who first generated widespread public interest in the process during his 2006 State Of The Union Address - again mentioned cellulosic ethanol Friday, during a meeting at the State Department in Washington D.C.

Legitimate strides have been made in commercialization of alternative fuels such as cellulosic ethanol during the past two years, with Mascoma Corp. saying Friday that it intends to begin operating the nation's first switchgrass biorefinery in Monroe County, Tennessee by 2009.

ConocoPhillips (COP) and Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) also announced late last week that they have come to an agreement on developing biocrude, a product made from crop residue, wood residue and energy crops like switchgrass, that can be further processed into fuel, much like crude oil.