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The crop has an advantage as a biofuel feedstock because its sugar juice can be readily converted to alcohol using only yeast, which is simpler and less expensive than the enzyme processes required for corn starch conversion.

To make a long story short, the biofuels potential for sweet sorghum could be a sweet deal for the sorghum industry. Not only can the sugars be used to create biofuels, but the bagasse can also be used to generate electricity. In a fuel defi cient world, that combination really has its advantages.

Investment potential

Companies from coast to coast are working with sweet sor- ghum to tap into the crop’s potential as a biofuel. From the West Coast to the East Coast, sweet sorghum is sparking promising interest.

Southeast Renewable Fuels (SRF) in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is building a biofuel plant capable of producing ethanol from sweet sorghum, which will be the fi rst commercial scale plant of its kind in the U.S. The 20 million gallon ethanol plant is expected to be operable by October 2012.

“Sweet sorghum can make a signifi cant contribution to sat- isfy our coast to coast U.S. biofuels production needs and provide green electricity for many communities,” said Car- los Rionda, SRF president. “We selected sweet sorghum be- cause of its great fl exibility.”

The SRF plant will be the only ethanol production facility currently in the state of Florida. Rionda said the plant in Hen- dry County Florida will involve at least 10 growers (large and small) on a total of 25,000 acres, producing a minimum of two crops per acre per year with year-round planting. The total acreage will include both dedicated and rotational acres.

While the range of sweet sorghum maturity ranges from 90 to 120 days from planting to harvest, Rionda said harvest- ing year-round will be critical for SRF’s commitments to its ethanol and power clients.

The crop’s fi ber quality is critical in steam and power gen- eration. The fi ber left after squeezing the biomass is used as a boiler fuel. Power generation is an added benefi t of using sweet sorghum as a feedstock and is an important part of SRF’s business model to satisfy debt service.

“It enhances the advanced biorefi nery by adding a ‘green’ power plant that makes the facility energy self-suffi cient and produces electricity sales revenue at a guaranteed price,” Rionda said. SRF negotiated a power purchase agreement with a local utility that has steady pricing per kilowatt hour sold for the next 20 years.

SORGHUM Grower Winter 2011 9

“In the future, a sweet sorghum juice to ethanol facility could be enhanced by adding cellulosic technology of prov- en commercial viability,” Rionda said. “This would convert the excess bagasse into additional ethanol.”

BioDimensions, an agricultural business development group based in Memphis, Tenn., has installed a pilot plant in west- ern Tennessee where they are developing commercial capa- bilities to harvest, crush and process sweet sorghum.

“As an annual crop that can be grown across a wide geo- graphic area of the U.S., sweet sorghum has tremendous po- tential for the competitive production of ethanol and other fermentation products from the sugars, such as specialty chemicals and polymers,” said Randy Powell, BioDimen- sions sugar platform technical manager.

“Effi cient juice extraction can yield 400-600 gallons of ethanol per acre from the juice sugars,” Powell said, “while the crushed stalks represent a signifi cant cellulosic feedstock, which can be used for feed, combustion fuel or cellulosic ethanol.”

In 2009, the non-profi t Memphis Bioworks Foundation in conjunction with BioDimensions completed a comprehen- sive strategy aimed at highlighting leading agricultural and biobased product opportunities in the Mississippi Delta region. The strategy identifi ed sweet sorghum as the pre-

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