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Long a staple at the breakfast table in the form of sweet syrup, scientists at the University of Florida Institute of Agricultural and Food Sciences have found that sorghum grain may also be a promising candidate for ethanol production. Sorghum ethanol is a relatively new player in a rapidly-expanding field, but the research suggests that its star may have a quick ascent.

Three varieties of sorghum for sorghum ethanol

In a new study published in Industrial Crops and Products, researchers at the university found “found three UF/IFAS-developed sorghum varieties [which] could produce up to 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre.”

Part of the reason why sorghum is so promising as an ethanol crop is its abundance. According to the USDA’s fact sheet, sorghum is the third-largest grain crop grown in the United States, and the US is the largest producer of the cereal grain in the world. If the three varieties noted by UF researchers prove to be as productive as they suggest, this could prompt notable economic benefits should the US turn part of its crop to ethanol for exportation. Sorghum ethanol could be an alternative fuel success story in the making!

ScienceDaily reports some of the details of the new study and its implications:

For a newly published study, UF/IFAS scientists wanted to see if they could use the three sweet sorghum cultivars as raw material for bioethanol production.

Eulogio Castro, a former visiting assistant professor at UF/IFAS and lead author of the study, worked with UF/IFAS researchers to grow the sorghum cultivars at the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra, Florida. Castro is now a researcher at the University of Jaén in Spain.

Once researchers grew and harvested the sorghum, they took it to the UF/IFAS Stan Mayfield Biorefinery Pilot Plant in Perry, Florida. There, they processed the crop and collected the sugar-rich juice from the stems, which could be directly fermented to fuel ethanol. The bagasse — the dry, pulpy residue left after extracting the juice from the plant — was processed to generate an additional source of fermentable sugars that could also be converted to ethanol.

They found potential for the crop to produce up to 1,000 gallons ethanol per acre from the combined juice and bagasse-derived sugars.

Sorghum ethanol can be cultivated twice a year

Another reason to be excited about sorghum ethanol is that, in the warmer climes of Florida, the grain can be cultivated twice a year. Because of the adaptability of the crop in this regard, there is more chance to produce competitive product that can succeed in the domestic and global markets.

Is sorghum the ethanol supercrop of the future? It’s early days, but the signs are promising and it’s clear that this is a cereal grain to watch.

SOURCE: ScienceDaily
PHOTO: Peter Hanegraaf