Energy Sorghum Demonstrates Potential During Dry Summer
by Dan Conable (Cato Analytics LLC/Ethanol Producer Magazine) Despite weather challenges and the learning curve for farmers unfamiliar with this energy sorghum, one of the first commercial-scale plantings of the crop in the northeastern U.S. has been a success.
More than 400 acres of ES 5200, a high-biomass sorghum developed by Ceres Inc., were planted in June and early July under contract with Sweetwater Energy Inc., a bioproducts company focused on extracting sugars from a wide range of biomass feedstocks. In addition to the commercial acreage, strip trials of other sorghum varieties supplied by Ceres were planted on three farms to provide Sweetwater with more material for testing in its pilot research facility in Rochester, N.Y. A study of the economics of energy sorghum production from the farmer’s perspective is ongoing, with sponsorship by the New York Farm Viability Institute, a state-funded applied research organization.
At a field day for Western New York farmers, Jack Baron, Sweetwater’s president and CEO, explained the Sweetwater business model. “Rather than battling the logistic challenges of bringing hundreds of thousands of tons of feedstock in to a single processing facility, we’re working with a ‘hub and spoke’ model,” he said. “We will put up modular plants to extract sugars from about 40,000 tons of feedstock in locations where that material can be easily assembled, and then deliver sugar—a much higher-value product—to end users in the biofuel and chemical industries.” Sweetwater’s first commercial plant, to be announced within the next few weeks, will be located in the Midwest and utilize milling byproducts.
…Despite the dry weather, Sweetwater’s contracts with growers have resulted in output that exceeds the requirements of Sweetwater’s current pilot-scale research program at its Rochester, N.Y. facility. This situation has illustrated another advantage of this versatile crop: it can be readily incorporated into cattle feed. Faced with a critical forage deficit as a result of the dry summer, farmers in the area have been happy to purchase the surplus energy sorghum for incorporation into dairy rations. READ MORE