A group of scientists says sorghum should be a larger part of the biofuels conversation than it is today. The researchers – led by Purdue University scientists – believes sweet and biomass sorghum would meet the need for next-generation biofuels to be environmentally sustainable, easily adopted by producers and take advantage of existing agricultural infrastructure. Purdue Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology Nick Carpita says the Midwest is uniquely poised to get the biorefining industry going on cellulose. He says the ethanol plants of today are equipped to take advantage of new bioenergy crops. In the near future – according to Purdue Agronomy Professor Cliff Weil – we need a feedstock other than corn. He says sweet and biomass sorghum would require fewer inputs and could be grown on marginal lands.
Carpita says sorghum could be genetically developed in a way that maximizes cellulose and minimizes seeds. If producing biomass and not seed – he says less nitrogen is required. What’s more – farmers may be more willing to grow sorghum. It’s a crop they’re familiar with and it’s an annual. Nathan Mosier – Purdue Associate Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering – says the perennial switchgrass is a 15-year commitment. A producer can’t switch annually based on the economy or other factors.
Speaking of the economy – a Purdue Research Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics says bringing sorghum back as a biofuel crop could have an economic impact on poorer rural areas of the country. Because the crop can be produced on low-quality, marginal lands in dry areas – he says producing sorghum for biofuel will significantly improve the economy of rural lands that rely on low-productivity agriculture.