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Texas Company Targeting Sorghum for Cellulosic Ethanol

A Texas A&M researcher working with a high-biomass variant of sorghum. Click to enlarge. Source: Texas A&M

Gulf Ethanol Corp., a Houston, Texas-based ethanol company, is pursuing the use of sorghum as a feed stock for the production of cellulosic ethanol. Gulf Ethanol, which began as an importer of sugarcane ethanol from South America and the Caribbean Islands, now plans to produce, distribute, and blend biofuels.

Sorghum is a genus comprising numerous grass species, some of which are used for grain, fodder and forage (grain sorghum) and some of which are used for syrup production (sweet sorghum). Sorghum thus offers multiple pathways to ethanol:

  • Starch-to-ethanol from grain sorghum. About 15% of the US grain sorghum crop currently goes into ethanol production with one bushel of grain sorghum producing the same amount of ethanol as one bushel of corn, according to the National Sorghum Producers.

  • Sugar-to-ethanol from sweet sorghum; and

  • Cellulosic ethanol from:

    • Residue/regrowth on grain sorghum
    • Forage sorghums
    • Bagasse from sweet sorghum
    • Dedicated biomass sorghums

Sorghum plants tend to be water-efficient, drought- and heat-tolerant, and grow in warmer climates. Texas is thus interested in exploring the potential use of sorghum as a potential biofuel feedstock.

As an example, a Regional Water Plan prepared for the Texas Panhandle Water Planning Group in Amarillo, Texas, found that the water savings over 50 years for 524,243 acres spread over 21 counties in the Texas Panhandle would amount to 7,360,000 acre-feet of water if irrigated corn acreage were converted to irrigated sorghum.

That’s on average, 147,200 acre-feet saved per year—about 48 billion gallons US (182 billion liters) per year.

Texas A&M University is working on optimizing varieties of sorghum for biomass-based ethanol production.

Corn is a viable way to produce ethanol from starch, but that’s not the only option for Texas and the southern part of the country. Based upon our analyses, we find it’s efficient to take something like our new sorghum varieties or sugar cane that produces large volumes of biomass, rather than producing grain and then converting grain-starch to ethanol.

—Dr. Elsa Murano, Vice Chancellor of Agriculture and Life Sciences for the A&M System and Director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station

One of Texas A&M’s initiatives is to develop a high biomass sorghum for use in cellulosic ethanol production. The goal of the development is high biomass accumulation—about 20 tons/acre.

In May, Chevron Corporation and the Texas A&M Agriculture and Engineering BioEnergy Alliance (Texas A&M BioEnergy Alliance) announced that they had entered into a strategic research agreement to accelerate the production and conversion of crops for manufacturing ethanol and other biofuels from cellulose. (Earlier post.)




Sorghum! Perfect!


I don't normally think of a cereal crop was potenital cellulosic ethanol stock. How does Sorghum compare to switch grass?


This sounds good. On the topic of sugarcane, from what I understand east Texas and Louisiana used to grow a lot of sugarcane.

If Brazil can get better energy returns on it, why not us? It may be the water requirement for sugarcane is higher than for this crop.


Hi, the ICRISAT has developed drought-tolerant sweet sorghum hybrids that deliver grain, forage and sugar syrup all in one plant. The hybrid produces potentially more ethanol than sugarcane and needs much less water.

More here:

U.S. scientists develop drought tolerant sorghum for biofuels (sorghum as a biomass crop)

Sweet super sorghum - yield data for the ICRISAT hybrid (the grain, fodder, sugar hybrid)

Vin Diesel

Yes, one bushel of milo (grain sorghum) produces the same amount of ethanol as one bushel of corn...

...but one acre of land produces 150 bushels of corn and only 80 bushels of milo. Hence corn produces 88% more ethanol per acre than milo...

...but corn requires A LOT more water, fertilizer, and other inputs per acre than milo, so the potential costs per bushel produced may be similar...

Does anyone have any cost per acre comparisons for Milo vs. Corn?


Well, maybe not so perfect. It requires more fertilizer than switchgrass or miscanthus. It's easy on water, tho'.


How will the minerals and nutrients in the soil be replenished?

Michael McMillan

That is about 1/300 the capacity of the hoover dam.


As with corn starch ethanol EROEI, sweet sorghum sap derived C2H5OH and biomass (per acre, per annum) returns vary. Some report as low as 250 ga/16 tons per acre and as high as 1,800 ga and 34+ tons. Much of this variability is due to the length of the growing season, and the number of ratoon crops.


This must be an extreemly viable solution because the
sorghum futures market is really ramping up as of late.
The amount of players rushing in, is similiar to the other
grain markets as Ethanol began its ramp up in production.
"Got Milk" will be an old slogan, as the new "Got Cereal"
will be more appropriate going forward.

Bill Milosch

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