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Sweet Sorghum For Biofuel Production


the “Northern Sugar Plant” because of the high sugar content in the stalks. Sweet sorghum is the same species (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) as grain sorghum. Al- though sweet sorghum is primarily


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grown to produce sorghum syrup, it can also be used as a feedstock for biofuel. In favorable environments, sweet sorghum varieties can grow 14 feet tall and produce 20 to 50 tons of biomass (fresh weight) per acre. It is more drought tolerant than corn and re- quires less nitrogen fertilizer. Dr. Morris Bitzer cal- culated that corn has an energy efficiency of 1:1.8 while sweet sorghum has an efficiency of 1:8 (per- sonal communication, 2009). An international group called the Sweet Sorghum Ethanol Association was organized in 2007 to promote sweet sorghum crop management practices and technologies to make ethanol and bio-derivatives. Current Potential for Use as a Biofuel Most of sweet sorghum models for biofuel produc-


tion use either gasification or fermentation to process plant material into biofuel. In Texas, sorghum vari- eties are being bred to produce high biomass yields (Juerg et al., 2009). Sugar in the stalk is not the pri- mary focus. Sorghum biomass is burned by fast py- rolysis to produce syngas, bio-oil, and charcoal. In this system, the synthetic gas and bio-oil are used for transportation fuel and the charcoal is applied to fields to improve soil structure. Most of the sweet sorghum research around the world is focused on traditional sugar fermentation by yeast from the


DR. GENE STEVENS PORTAGEVILLE, MO.


weet sorghum was first intro- duced into the United States in 1852. Issac Hedges called it


juice. Sweet sorghum juice contains sucrose, fructose, and glucose which can easily be made into ethanol. To optimize ethanol yield, a juice ex- traction rate of at least 50 percent from the stalks is needed. Extraction re- quires a roller mill or dif- fuser equipment. The bagasse can be used to feed livestock or pelletized to burn for heat in build- ings or to produce elec- tricity. The vinasse, which is a mixture of dead yeast and plant material after fermentation, can be com- posted and sold for fertil- izer. The statement “all biomass is local” also applies to


Corn (left) and sweet sorghum (right) at the Kellogg Biological Station in Hickory Corners, Michigan. Photo taken by Dennis Pennington


sweet sorghum feedstock. Ideally, each sweet sorghum farm would have its own processing facility. For gasification to be economically feasible, small- scale pyrolysis systems are needed. A study by Mem- phis Bioworks showed that sweet sorghum processing plants should be located no more than 6 miles from production fields in the Delta region (Tripp et al., 2009). To utilize the bagasse for feed- ing, cattle should be in the vicinity. Biology and Adaptation Sweet sorghum can be grown in most of the conti-


nental United States. However, sorghum is less cold tolerant than corn. Soil temperatures should be above 65o


F at planting to achieve good seed emer-


gence. Fungicide seed treatments can be used to re- duce seedling disease infestation. Fortunately, sorghum plants can often compensate for low plant stands by producing several tillers per plant. Opti- mum planting rates vary by region and soils. Gener- ally, target plant population should be 60,000 to 100,000 plants per acre. Fields with irrigation should have higher populations than non-irrigated. Plant


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August 6, 2010 / MidAmerica Farmer Grower • 11


lodging is more likely to occur in high population fields because stalks become smaller in diameter due to competition. Height is also an issue – sweet sorghum can be blown down in strong winds. Production Sweet Sorghum Varieties Most sweet sorghum varieties planted in the United


States today were developed at the U.S. Sugar Crops Field Station at Meridian, Mississippi. Unfortunately this facility closed in 1983. Four important varieties from that station are ‘Theis’, ‘Keller’, ‘Dale’, and ‘M81E’. Active sweet sorghum breeding programs are underway in several states. In 2007, the University of Kentucky and University of Nebraska jointly released a male-sterile hybrid named ‘KNMorris’. Dr. Bill Rooney at Texas A&M University has released female inbred lines with higher sugar content for use in the production of sweet sorghum hybrids. Dr. Ismail Dweikat at Nebraska is developing sweet sorghum cultivars with increased cold tolerance. Other lines include chinch bug resistance and non-flowers types. Pest Management Sweet sorghum diseases are best controlled by ro-


tating fields with non-grass crops such as soybean and planting disease resistant sweet sorghum vari- eties. The same diseases that affect grain sorghum also attack sweet sorghum. Dale is resistant to most diseases. Keller and M81E are resistant to red stalk rot (Anthracnose) but are susceptible to maize dwarf


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