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Ceres Readying First Optimized Seeds for Bioenergy Crops; Yield is the Goal

3 August 2008

Ceres is readying a number of different switchgrass varieties for Spring 2009 sowing, optimized for different regions in the US. Click to enlarge.

Ceres, Inc. is preparing to introduce its first commercial offering of energy crop seeds this fall under the trade name Blade to be ready for Spring 2009 sowing. The seeds—including variants of high-biomass sorghum, sweet-sorghum and switchgrass—are optimized for different growing zones, or agroecoregions. Other energy crops in the Ceres pipeline include: miscanthus, energycane and short-rotation woody species.

Ceres is focused on using its biotechnology to maximize yield. The region-appropriate Ceres switchgrass cultivar would deliver about twice the biomass of the switchgrass cultivar (Cave Rock) used in large-scale University of Illinois field trials, according to Ceres CEO Richard Hamilton. (Earlier post.)

From both an economic and environmental perspective, if we are going to turn plant matter into fuel, we should use feedstocks that give us the maximum fuel yield per acre.

—Richard Hamilton

Or, as the Department of Energy put it in the 2006 research roadmap for the development of cellulosic ethanol,

In general terms, the goal of feedstock development is to obtain maximum usable organic carbon per acre in an environmentally and economically sustainable way.

—“Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol” (DOE, 2006)

Energy crops can be divided into two types. Type I crops—such as corn—are primarily used for agricultural food and feed production but can produce substantial amounts of usable biomass as a byproduct. Type II crops are only used for energy.

Achieving the maximal yield of a dedicated energy crop (Type II) is a significantly different goal from maximizing the yield of most existing crop species (Type I), where only the number of reproductive or storage organs is considered. The yield of a Type II species is a function of the total number of cells per acre multiplied by the mean amount of accumulated carbon per cell. Thus, biomass yield can be enhanced by increasing the number of cells per acre per year, the amount of carbon per cell, or both.

Achieving either type of enhancement is a complex systems problem. At the core of the problem, however, is the need to maximize photosynthetic CO2 fixation to support carbon accumulation. Additionally, fixed carbon must be directed into either cell-wall polymers or storage carbohydrates or used to support extra cell division. Cell-wall polymers include cellulose, hemicellulose, and lignin; storage carbohydrates include sugars and starches.

—Breaking the Biological Barriers to Cellulosic Ethanol

Other goals are to maximize sustainability while minimizing inputs, and maximizes the amount of fuel that can be produced per unit of biomass.

Ceres uses both breeding and biotechnology to address the main factors limiting yield: the germplasm (genetics); biotic stresses (weeds, insects, fungi); and abiotic stresses (drought, nitrogen, temperature).

Ceres uses high-throughput sequencing to characterize genes from various plant species; the company has so far sequenced about 80,000 genes and selected about 20,000 for further investigation. These are inserted into their model plant, Arabidopsis, which Hamilton called the “lab mouse of the plant world.” From these, Ceres defines valuable gene-trait combinations via high-throughput screens. Successful gene-promoter combinations are then moved into rice—a plant much closer to the grasses targeted as the ultimate energy crops. The most valuable of the gene-promoter combinations are then moved into their target energy crops for further evaluation.

In a briefing organized by General Motors at Ceres’s offices in Thousand Oaks, California, Hamilton said that economically, biomass yield needs to be in the range of 20 tons per acre. The economics of production make it difficult to see how feedstocks other than optimized energy crops can scale to that density, although the breadth of feedstocks is a way to get the industry started, he said. Improving biomass composition and conversion traits can further reduce capital and operating costs.

You want to get to the “light sweet crude” of biomass, and stay away from the stuff that is more difficult to refine.

—Richard Hamilton

The focus on the economics is one of the reasons Ceres is leading with switchgrass and sorghum, rather than Miscanthus, which, as the University of Illinois study showed, is currently a higher yielding crop than switchgrass. But while switchgrass is a seeded crop, Miscanthus requires the planting of rhizomes—a slower, more labor-intensive, and hence more expensive, means of propagation. One of the projects Ceres is exploring is the creation of a seeded variety of Miscanthus to address those issues.

Rough calculation of available land for energy crops. Click to enlarge.

Ceres is working with various production partners to optimize the energy crop traits to mesh with their different production methodologies.

Hamilton roughly calculates that growing energy crops that can deliver 20t/acre on 60 million acres of non-crop or idle farmland could yield 120 billion gallons of ethanol (60M acres X 20t/ac X 100g/t = 120B gallons or 85% of current US gasoline demand—i.e., E85.

Ceres Blade Energy Crops
High-Biomass Sorghum
Name Hybrid Type Range Target UsesComments
ES 5150
ES 5140
Sorghum- Sudan Most sorghum growing areas Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Photo-sensitive, non-heading hybrid; selected for high biomass production; vigorous; thick-stemmed; good water-use efficiency
ES 5141 BMR Sorghum- Sudan Most sorghum growing regions with low disease pressure Biochemical, Digestion Brown midrib (BMR) types generally produce less lignin; late-blooming, productive throughout growing season
ES 5142 BMR Sorghum- Sudan More southerly growing areas Biochemical, Digestion Brown midrib (BMR) types generally produce less lignin; late-blooming, productive throughout growing season; has shown improved disease tolerance for southern geographies
Sweet Sorghum
Name Hybrid Type Range Target UsesComments
EJ 7143 Sweet x Forage Sub-tropical growing areas Sugar/Biochemical High-yielding multiple-cut sorghum with high sugar content
EJ 7144 Sweet x Forage Sub-tropical growing areas Sugar/Biochemical High-yielding multiple-cut sorghum with high sugar content
NameHybrid TypeRangeTarget UsesComments
EG 1101 Southern Lowland Southern to mid-latitudes of lowland range; min. 25" rainfall during growing season, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Improved Alamo type; bred for greater biomass yields; better establishment; some disease resistance observed; may work well in a 2-cut system in high rainfall areas
EG 1102 Northern Lowland Southern to mod-latitudes; Does well in northern limits of lowland range; min 25" rainfall during the growing season, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Improved Kanlow-type with good establishment; bred for high biomass yields; adapted farther north than EG 1101
Kanlow Northern Lowland Southern to mid-latitudes; Does well in northern limits of lowland range; min. 25" rainfall during growing season, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Has done well on poorly drained and flood-prone sites
Blackwell Southern Upland Mid-latitudes and southern parts of upland range; min 20" rainfall during growing season, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Late-maturing and productive; rust resistance observed; suited to drier areas
Trailblazer Southern Upland Mid-latitudes and southern parts of upland range; min 20" rainfall during growing season, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Pathfinder type with improved digestibility; late-maturing, vigorous and winter-hardy
Sunburst Northern Upland Northern Great Plains; min 20" rainfall during growing seasons, or irrigation Biochemical, Thermochemical, Cofiring/Cogen, Digestion Selected for good seedling vigor; medium-to-high yield potential and winter-hardy

Green Car Congress attended the briefing at GM’s expense.


August 3, 2008 in Cellulosic ethanol | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack (0)


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Biodiversity is a treasure of nature that is in imminent danger of extinction. The vast grass lands that the Indians roamed rough shod and provided the daily cud of the buffalo is about to be bioengineered into oblivion.

In an orgy of destruction in our not so distant past, the great advancing hordes of the white man spread west, like locus to devour everything in their path. Now, to our shame, the wildness of the mountain man and the Indian are forever gone and so to the magnificent buffalo.

And now with the insatiable and blind appetite of modern transportation, the great grassland ecology that has taken 10,000 years to be born after the long frozen death of the ice age is about to be snuffed out in a year or two by the profit motive.

Just because it can be done does not mean that it should be done. Wild things are a treasure beyond price and must not be sacrificed for the mundane ramblings to the mall or the corner store.

The butterfly alighting on the tiny blue flowers of the rolling and unending plain is the face of God that is reflected in this world. The thriving randomness of the wild flower and the insect and the bee is something that the Great Almighty created with such loving care over the eons; man in his vanity and selfishness wants to supersede such Devine Beauty with the sacrilege of the test tube.

Use electricity instead, and save the wonders of the myriad life of these rolling grass lands from sea to shining sea of our beautiful America for our descendents for ever and ever, Amen.

Well said!! Pick any varieties of known plants and grow and harvest them in all possible locations, and there will still not be enough collected energy to provide a large percentage of the energy of the crude oil used each year in the US. Even lead batteries are good enough for electric cars, and all that is needed are laws that require them to be used and built in large enough numbers that would provide an economy of scale. All battery cars must be required by law to have a liquid fuel powered engine so that it is a plug in hybrid wihtout range limit. The engine can be very small for some uses, but always smaller and more efficient than ordinary car engines. A small plug in hybrid car with a two or three horsepower engine generator is powerfull enough for all city street travel. ..HG..

anon, while that speech was very beautiful and moving, it doesn't really do anything to solve the fuel and food crisis that is currently gripping most of the developed and developing countries. should we halt all progress for the sake of one butterfly, so that one man can enjoy a beautiful vista while millions starve?

"Pick any varieties of known plants and grow and harvest them in all possible locations, and there will still not be enough collected energy to provide a large percentage of the energy of the crude oil used each year in the US."

actually, that is not true. The Miscanthus trial linked in the body of the article shows 100% of US gasoline usage can be replaced using less than a quarter of current agricultural land area. and that is with an unimproved Miscanthus variety.

Further, no one proposes nor reasonably believes that biofuels will supply anything more than 20-25% of domestic transportation energy. As liquid fuel demand plummets over the next ten years these relatively small fuel crops will replace foreign oil. While the anon statement is a good one, we have to remember that conservation of the planet's wild places (i.e. proposed drilling sites) is more probable by ending petroleum use.

And until energy from the sun or its processes becomes ubiquitous, food - fuel for the human body, and fuel - energy for human action, are part of the same life support system.


should we halt all progress for the sake of one butterfly, so that one man can enjoy a beautiful vista while millions starve?

The butterfly is not the villain, it is misguided priorities. A way that preserves this world as a wholesome home for mankind; full of the beauty of vibrant life, needs be found. Let us not turn this earth into a lonely and sterile place, devoid of the handiwork of evolution, and populated only by the living devices of man.

Let us not make things worse. The vista of the coming disaster is now in view.

Let us run through the numbering of our future sorrow; the statistics of our coming loneliness. Maybe this recitation will soften that engineers’ heart and reach that computer soul.

12 per cent of all birds, 23 per cent of mammals, a quarter of conifers, a third of amphibians and more than half of all palm trees are threatened with imminent extinction. Climate change alone could lead to the further extinction of between 15 and 37 per cent of all species by the end of the century, the scientists say: "Because biodiversity loss is essentially irreversible, it poses serious threats to sustainable development and the quality of life of future generations.

Does it take this spreadsheet of lamentations to move your soul? Must we kill all other life in a viral plague of selfishness? Relent and have mercy on our fellow creatures. The time is growing short; the lonely future is just ahead. A silent spring will be are lasting legacy of shame.

What is the infatuation that so many seem to have with electricity? It is typically generated with poor efficiencies by combustion of fossil fuels. It is also difficult to store (the bane of renewable electricity generation). Whereas biomass is a simple cheap method for storage of solar energy.

If syngas is produced by pyrolysis, we can use the agrichar to fertilize the grass and other crops why sequestering huge amounts of carbon (or converting it to carbon fiber to make the cars from).


"The vista of the coming disaster is now in view."

It is just such religiosity that has blown back in the face of environmentalists. Each day dire predictions of extinctions are revealed to be mistaken or purposeful hoax. Do not continue down the failed path of Al Gore and AGW to alienate the rest of the planet.

If you really love the biosphere - treat it with the respect it deserves. Available in two simple words: "The Truth."

"Exaggeration leads the coalition of disbelief."


The essence of your post is true, the centerpoint upon which all else swings; Respect.

There is no “mistaken or purposeful hoax” in the destruction of the South American rain forest for soy and cattle, or the Malaysian wilderness for palm, or the grasslands here in America.

Your mind is poison by triviality, plus royaliste que le roi, and the fashionable, nouvelle vague. Al Gore and AGW is a slight political diversion that you hold so dear. It will quickly pass away into the echoes of history. And it is a small thing compared to the disrespect for the natural and diverse; the loss of the heritage of life.

There is no “Exaggeration”, only sadness at this disregard of men.

The “Truth” has always been and will always be, from when the seas first rolled upon this earth to when the sun lays burnt and cold.

It’s been denied from the beginning of its discovery by our greatest mind, its circumvention rampant and a looming disaster. Here it is, once more; the Creators plan at work in this world.

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

—Charles Darwin

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, 1859

I believe that cellulose biofuels will the the next big thing. We can create enough cellulose biofuels to eliminate oil imports from the middle east and still have food to feed the world.


How are the economics of processing cellulose on an industrial scale?

Which pathway do you think holds the most promise?

I have not done an in depth analysis. I have favored gasification and synthesis because it can take several cellulose biomass inputs and create several biomass fuel outputs.

I like turning the cellulose biomass like corn stalks and wheat straw into methane by gasification. We could have plants all over the farm belt taking tons of stalks from the fields and putting CO2 neutral methane in the natural gas pipes to fuel dual fuel cars.


your care for the biosphere is apparent. Your denial of the catastrophe caused by AGW's "cry wolf" is sadly as calamitous as rainforest destruction and African elephant slaughter.

The message was delivered plainly and clearly a decade ago - exaggeration will turn upon its purveyors with vengeance. Now because of Gore and company's attempt to wash the public mind with ill conceived scare tactics - the world has turned against you. The loss of credibility for conservation and green movement is a catastrophe that makes hurricanes, tidal rise and ice melts look meek.

Had you chosen wisely, to build green awareness based on social, political and scientific fact, rather than global warming hyperbole - millions of human beings would be with you today. Unfortunately, climate exaggeration has given reason for millions to reject that agenda and its indefensible claims.

"Exaggeration has led the coalition of disbelief." And it will take years to correct the failure.

"...any man's death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624

I read your last post with a modicum of amusement and offence. You decry my lack of radicalism; a quality of character that you possess in abundance as witnessed by the selection of your cognomen. Why did you pick me for the honor of your perverted castigation?

Face it, the AGW debate is over. I am a realist. The congress and both presidential candidates both reflect this universal common cause Nouvelle Vague. There is little doubt what the shape of the future will be.

You are in the fringe minority and obviously don’t like it. You are frustrated that I am not inclined to share your doctrinaire.

I view AGW as an issue that will be resolved in the near future, not by politics, but by the numbers. There is not enough extractable carbon remaining in this world to make dooms day happen.

The imprudent pursuit of Biofuel as it impacts on the reduction of Biodiversity is the critical issue.

In this sunset of the fossil age, to redirect and encourage the quest for new fuels toward electricity generated by nuclear, solar, wind, and the like, to preserve the legacy of varied life is my passion.

The storehouse of a wide genetic library must be preserved to forestall agricultural stagnation and eventual failure. If that catastrophe happens then were would we be?

What comes to mind as I contemplate your persona, an appropriate quotation from a fellow traveler in your world of ideas ….

Spiro Theodore Agnew: "nattering nabobs of negativism" ,"pusillanimous pussyfooters", and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history".


Thanks for the musing. I am neither fringe nor negative. Rather, the harbinger of the real inconvenient truth. That is, the days of pulling wool - even for righteous cause - accompany the demise of fossil fuel. You rejoice at fossil fuel's end (as do I!) - you recoil at the loss of power over certain minions.

I live to defend the Creation of which mankind is a part. For all his many mistakes, he is still a part of the Creation. And therefor good. When I was a child, my parents told me there was a Santa Claus. I quickly learned that whilst there may not be such a character in real life - the *idea* behind him was a good one. As has been the work of multitudes to steer the path of human evolution for the better.

That steerage is gratefully acknowledged. It has been and shall continue to be of unworldly value. We humbly pray for its continuance. All the while, we shall continue upon our path of independence; emotionally, spiritually and technologically. We do so with the foremost image in mind to preserve the Creation - of which mankind is of solemn issue.

If you sir, trust as do I in the providence of good will, then you will know that the steps we take today are in celebration and pursuit of a higher order of being. And the preservation of the legacy of varied life. It is my wish to do that together with those who have gone before and who know that eventually, myth and fabrication resolve to independent thought and being.

I hope that you will join me and those many who are with me - and that together we make our way forward into the light.

Anon, Stan?
"Not enough carbon fuels left to bring on Doomsday"

You must read more , esecially on the subjects Coal, Gas.
And fakebreaker You and anon should rehearse your act at the bible reading class where the mindless go secially to hear fake, one act plays.


Aug 6, 2008 2:37:36 PM

I have an open mind, and so does Fakebreaker (so he says) please define what dooms day is to you, and prove it will happen, and if you could; when, if you will be so kind.

Fakebreaker says that this belief in dooms day is religious in nature; use science to contradict him.
If you can’t, I am sure he will accept an apology.

My belief in no dooms day is just as valid as your belief in one. Why am I a troll for an honestly held belief?

I have not tried to convince you. The subject just came up in conversation that you were not a party to.

Why do you slander me so? I can't abide rude behavior.


Electrification of our transportation vehicles may be a matter of plain efficiency and ecology.

1) Sun to wheel total efficiency with ICE machines run on high efficiency made agro-fuels will be about 2% (sun to feedstock) x 80% (feed stock to fuel) x 20% (ICE to wheel) = 0.32%

2) Sun to wheel total efficiency for a BEV is about 20% (sun to e-energy with PVs) x 85% (electricity to wheel via ESSU and e-motors) = about 17% or about 50+ times that of 1) above.

Secondly, but not the least, PVs and BEVs and future ESSUs are much more eco-friendly than agro fuels and ICE machines.

Many people could run their BEVs from clean rooftop solar panels. With enough PVs + a fixed home ESSU, many could produce most of the clean energy required for their BEVs and residence's HVAC.

Electrification seems to be the best way to go to progressively replace our antique ICE machines and fossil fuel HVACs.

A global review of the world's primates says 48% of species face extinction, an outlook described as "depressing" by conservationists.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species says the main threat is habitat loss, primarily through the burning and clearing of tropical forests.

More than 70% of primates in Asia are now listed as Endangered, it adds.

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