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Aemetis harvests demo crop of optimized biomass sorghum in California for advanced biofuels; ~90 days from planting to harvest

Aemetis, Inc., an advanced renewable fuels and biochemicals company, has harvested 12- to 15-foot tall biomass sorghum grown in Central California that was produced using proprietary seed genetics from Nexsteppe, a provider of optimized sorghum feedstock solutions. Biomass Sorghum is a feedstock for low-carbon advanced biofuels.

The 20-acre demonstration crop of biomass sorghum was planted, grown, and harvested by Aemetis in approximately 90 days, validating the potential use of biomass crops for the production of lower-carbon, advanced biofuels or as a rotational crop in California.

The water supply for the biomass sorghum crop was lower-quality pump water containing salts that typically damage crops. The project was located in the western San Joaquin Valley, which has received a low water allocation from state and federal sources for the past several years.

In addition to the biomass sorghum demonstration, Aemetis is also a participant in the California In-State Sorghum program (CISS) through a $3-million grant awarded by the California Energy Commission. The CISS program combines research and market development to support the in-state growth of grain sorghum as a reliable low-carbon feedstock for California’s ethanol producers.

The CISS program has just completed the first harvest of grain sorghum at the CSU Fresno International Center for Water Technology.

Aemetis’ 60-million gallon per year ethanol plant in California converts sugars to biofuels. Aemetis has a multi-year strategy to transition its biofuel production from traditional starch-based feedstocks to renewable biomass feedstocks that can produce low-carbon, advanced biofuels. The transition is expected to evolve from corn to grain sorghum and ultimately to biomass sorghum and agricultural wastes available in California.

The federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) currently mandates up to 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels per year by 2022. As of 2015, announced US cellulosic fuels producers’ nameplate capacity is about 85 million gallons. The cellulosic feedstock grown in the Central Valley can produce a variety of renewable fuels such as cellulosic ethanol, renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and renewable jet fuel.

Nexsteppe’s sorghum is uniquely capable of growing a large amount of biomass in a short period of time using land that lacks quality water and where other plants may not grow. Biomass sorghum can be converted to cellulosic ethanol or a variety of other renewable fuels through various available technologies. Aemetis has already processed about 80 million pounds of grain sorghum at its Keyes biorefinery, producing lower-carbon fuel ethanol.

—Eric McAfee, Chairman and CEO of Aemetis

Nextsteppe currently is developing and commercializing “Malibu” sweet sorghum and “Palo Alto” biomass sorghum to produce feedstocks tailored for biobased industries. NexSteppe’s Malibu sweet sorghum hybrids have been optimized to provide an easily accessible source of fermentable sugars for the production of biobased fuels, chemicals and products. Malibu sweet sorghums can be used as a complement to sugarcane to provide additional feedstock for existing sugar-to-ethanol mills.

The Palo Alto biomass sorghum hybrids provide a high-yield, low-moisture, cost-effective feedstock for biopower, including biogas, and cellulosic biofuels. 20-feet-tall after only four months of growth, NexSteppe’s Palo Alto biomass sorghum hybrids are designed to have low moisture levels at maturity, thus significantly lessening the amount of water harvested, thereby reducing the harvest and transport costs that can be 50% or more of total delivered feedstock cost. Lower moisture levels also provide a higher effective energy density for combustion.

Comments

SJC

"..renewable diesel, renewable gasoline and renewable jet fuel.."

This is what I have recommended for years. Some say it can not be done or should not be done, so much for those "expert" opinions.

HarveyD

Could become one of the solution for future Jet Fuel, where it can be produced in large enough quantities without affecting food production, directly and/or indirectly.

SJC

Sorghum grows tall with less water, the grain can be made into ethanol then the distillers dried grain can be used for live stock. The 10 foot tall stalks can be used for cellulose ethanol then what remains gasified into bio synthetic transportation fuels.

Engineer-Poet

Nothing on the yield (either biomass or finished fuel) per acre, and most crucially, nothing per acre-foot of water.

Growing biofuels in a drought-stricken California is the height of foolishness.

HarveyD

Boiled, fried or BBQued sorghum may become the in food of the future?

SJC

The sorghum is grown for dairy and beef cattle, they are not growing a fuel crop. In this case they are using the water from the west side of the valley, where the ground water is shallow and polluted from years of orchards.

NewtonPulsifer

@Engineer-Poet

You could have spent a couple minutes actually reading closely and using a search engine to get the missing data you were complaining about. Instead you chose to be lazy.

The water used was too briny/salty for regular agriculture, so using it in a drought is not "the height of foolishness" but rather quite the opposite.

Current yield in Brazil (over 10,000 hectares under cultivation, presumably numbers are per year) is 220-25 dry tons per hectare and 12-30 MWh per hectare biomass power(depending on conversion efficiency) that was then sold for $50-60 per dry ton. That's 1.16 cents per kilowatt-hour for a fuel using the midpoint numbers of the above. Not bad at all, considering genetically modified sorghum can grow on crap land with crap water. And if you don't there's other advantages "rotating soybeans with sorghum can increase soybean yields by 15% relative to leaving the land fallow between plantings."

Link here

NewtonPulsifer

Whoops, 5.9 cents per kilowatt-hour

SJC

Shell Pearl could not and should not make natural gas into jet fuel, but they do. Mid west farmers could not and should not make ethanol from corn stalks but they do. Lots of negative opinions proven wrong.

Engineer-Poet

Just because it's too briny/salty for other crops doesn't mean there's enough of it to do very much, and it won't until you breed a crop that can subsist on seawater.  Physical quantities matter.

kalendjay

Growing this sorghum in drought stricken California is a mistake? Not at all!

In addition to reducing resident crop time as ground stubble in relation to mass yield, high grasses will trap great amounts of moisture and provide shadow and reflectance against sunlight. This sorghum is probably even better against snowdrifts in the Midwest, by way of providing even distributin and melt of snowpacks.

A major problem in California is not lack of water, but lack of attention to retaining runoff and acquifer replenishment. If something like the River of Rain of 1861 occurs, we could see inland lakes form as a result. The current water distribution system which will include improvements in the San Francisco Delta could redirect excess water between north and south, but a soil permeability program would be the ultimate and most necessary answer. Salinity can be safely improved with small rainfall, with benefits even as far as the Salton Sea,which developed its own ecology for more than a century (despite being a manmade mistake.

Rather than exporting grasses to China via containers, or tearing out pecans and persimmons at the first sign of water trouble, for once I think an innovative crop like this might be supported by way of promoting balanced water and crop management. And I'm not a big biofuel fan.

SJC

Almond orchards use one gallon of water per almond. Think of a big almond tree producing 10,000 almonds per year but taking 10,000 gallons of water each year.

Farmers were told by the California water authority NOT to plant orchards. They require huge amounts of water, that water is not available every year. They did not listen, planted orchards then complain they can not get the water.

There is plenty of saline water in the central valley just below ground level. If they use drip irrigation for the sorghum they will use less water and have great crop yields.

Engineer-Poet

Then they will lower the water table and either concentrate the salts in the soil, or have to move them somewhere else.  Mining the aquifer is a dead-end move.

kalendjay

We can agree that drip irrigation is the answer, or irrigation in general. Incredibly irrigation accounts for only 10% of cropland management in the US, and is actually a thriving LLP type investment -- more secure than real estate in the current market, according to last reports from a millionaire friend of mine.

The remarks about pecan orchards must be taken in context to the root spread per tree, the margin of profit, and acre-feet of rainfall or other sustainable water coverage. Trees must have considerable spread between root systems: a rule is that there should be a five-foot buffer between the topsoil roots and any crops requiring tillage. Some grasses and shrubs will provide cover within the buffer, but not a huge amount. The sorghum described herein I would really discuss in the form of windrows or canal and basin buffering, which would be useful for stormwater retention.

Since new laws on the pricing and well rights of water in the west are now under discussion, this effectively raises the prospect of crop allotments as way of business: a limit to orchard coverage per acre, etc.

The depth of root systems is also crucial, which is why artichokes and similar brassicas are recommended. This affects tilth, rate of drainage to aquifer, and the dynamics of salt retention.

HarveyD

Eventually, California could use Solar and/or Nuclear Energy to treat sea water to the level required to grow enough Sorghum to produce essential Jet fuel.

Excess salt could be returned to the ocean or sold on the market place.

Engineer-Poet
We can agree that drip irrigation is the answer, or irrigation in general.

No, we cannot.  Anything which depletes the groundwater leads to subsidence and damage to the aquifer.  For all intents and purposes, that water is not a renewable resource; if you consume it, you cannot replace it even if you have the water again because the earth has compacted.

Mass agriculture in a desert is a mistake, pure and simple.

SJC

EP
You don't exist.

NewtonPulsifer

@Engineer-Poet

What you're describing doesn't apply to Keyes, CA - which is in the Turlock sub-basin.

The subsidence issues are a problem further south, near Merced.

Further aquifer depletion is only a problem with mispriced water , not something inherently a problem with farming in semi-arid regions.

Corn uses about an acre-foot of water for an acre of corn. Sorghum is about 2/3 of that. GM sorghum even less.

Brazil was grossing $1237.50 per hectare (so $501 per acre), and their sorghum breed was 3 feet shorter (9-12 feet) vs 12-15 feet - and took 110 days vs. 90 for this.

Basically by the Brazil numbers it is 22.5 tons for 0.66 acre-feet of water.

Compare that to 1 ton of alfalfa for 0.8 acre feet of water - sells for $200 per ton.

It's really simple - you price pumped water in California at some nominal price of like $200 per acre-foot (you can even make it revenue neutral - all water fees are returned to farmers as a generic subsidy).

So alfalfa's water alone would now cost 80% of the gross sale price, making it uneconomic in California.

GM sorghum? That gross amount of $501 per acre would incur a water cost of $133 based on non-GM sorghum, 26.5% of the gross sale price. California was making 25-33% more per acre (based on height) and using less water, so in actuality less than that 26.5%.

GM biomass sorghum is a great fit for San Joaquin valley, all that is needed is for some sensible water costing discipline to be enacted.

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