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ferred energy crop feedstock for development because of its proven agronomic suitability for the region, its high sugar content, and its ability to be easily inserted into existing row crop rotation patt erns.

“Sweet sorghum very effi - ciently converts sunlight to sugars and biomass,” said Pete Nelson, BioDimensions principal. “There are many open pollinated varieties with proven agronomics in various regions of the U.S., and new hybrids with enhanced traits are being developed by sev- eral leading companies.”

“Based on the bagasse pellet composition, the commercial potential in both markets is encouraging and development work on bagasse pellets is continuing,” Nelson said.

"Sweet sorghum very effi ciently converts sunlight to sugars and biomass."

While the future looks bright for sweet sorghum in the U.S., two factors have lim- ited adoption of the crop as a feedstock in this country,

namely the availability of harvesting equipment and the demonstration of the techniques necessary to integrate the various unit operations of sweet sorghum ethanol produc- tion on a commercial scale.

Only one sweet sorghum crop per year is possible in the Mid- South Delta region. However, BioDimensions has still been able to establish a harvest and processing window of near- ly fi ve months from August to December by using varieties with varying maturities and staggered planting dates.

Just as with grain ethanol production, the conversion of sweet sorghum to ethanol can produce other promising co- products. Nelson said BioDimensions successfully pelleted sweet sorghum bagasse last year to evaluate its potential for use as livestock feed, as well as fuel pellets.

“The identifi cation and proof of mechanized harvest, juice extraction, fermentation and distillation equipment at the right scale and price has been the challenge,” Powell said.

“On the other hand, sweet sorghum presents an excellent op- portunity to repurpose idle rural production infrastructure.”

The BioDimensions pilot plant was installed in a former cot- ton gin facility with existing utilities, a processing building and truck scales.

Both Case IH and John Deere have developed prototype sweet sorghum harvesters. SRF and BioDimensions have


SORGHUM Grower Winter 2011

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