EPA to Approve Sorghum for Cleaner Ethanol; Experts Say Grain Has Less Impact on Food Prices
(The Washington Post/Associated Press) The federal government is on the verge of approving a grain mainly used as livestock feed to make a cleaner version of ethanol, a decision officials say could give farmers a new moneymaking opportunity, boost the biofuels industry and help the environment.
A plant in western Kansas already is gearing up to take advantage, launching a multimillion-dollar renovation so it can be the first to turn sorghum — a plant similar in appearance to corn — into advanced ethanol. Advanced biofuels result in even less lifetime greenhouse gas production than conventional biofuels, measuring from the time a crop is planted to when the fuel is burned in a vehicle.
…While it can be used in human food, it’s sold mainly to feed poultry, cattle and other livestock. Sweet sorghum produces edible syrup.
Sorghum also has environmental advantages. It is more tolerant of drought than other crops, including corn, and it produces about the same amount of ethanol per bushel as corn while requiring one-third less water.
…The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that ethanol made from grain sorghum can qualify as an advanced biofuel if it’s made at plants with the proper green technology. The agency has taken public comments and will issue a final determination later.
…Western Plains Energy LLC in Oakley, Kan., which makes conventional ethanol, aims to be the first to upgrade to that technology. The plant is installing equipment that will use methane gas from cattle manure rather than natural gas, cut down on water use and turn waste into a fertilizer. The transition will cost $30 million to $40 million and could be done by the end of the year or early next year.
“We’re going to try to produce over 50 million gallons (of advanced ethanol) per year,” said Curt Sheldon, the plant’s chief accounting officer. “At today’s prices, we could probably pay for the project in two to three years.” READ MORE