Sweet Dreams For Biofuel Base

"What was once drizzled on hot biscuits could now power cars if several middle Georgia companies make headway turning cane sorghum into a biofuel," according to the Macon Telegraph in Macon, Ga. What’s the sweet sauce? Cane sorghum.

"In the modern era, cane sorghum has waned from a commercial crop to a quaint family tradition in Georgia,” the Telegraph reports. “But that could change if sorghum turns out to be a viable feedstock for making ethanol or biodiesel.

Several middle Georgia companies are exploring the possibility of making cleaner-burning fuel out of sorghum and other nontraditional feedstocks. “In Reynolds, cousins looking for a way to relaunch an old family farm have started a business called McClune Industries that is developing equipment for making ethanol from sorghum cane,” reports the Telegraph. “Their sorghum harvester could be pulled behind a tractor, reaping and juicing the tall stalks in one step.”

Kimble Oliver, chief financial officer, says 5,000 to 7,000 gallons of resulting juice could be kept on a farm in an enclosed ‘bladder’ until a portable distiller visits to convert the juice to ethanol for later pickup by distributors. The distiller could be owned by a local businessman or shared by a co-op of farmers, says Oliver’s cousin and company CEO Rick Hill.

The dried stalks left after the cane is juiced could be burned to provide heat energy for the distillation, says Lee McClune, the company’s physicist who developed the technology. Farmers could use the fuel to run their equipment and make a profit from the remainder, according to Oliver. “The farmer could do the process totally on the farm,” adds Oliver, whose family also runs the water slide at High Falls in Monroe County. ‘They’ll have all the control of this."

Todd Neeley, DTN ethanol reporter, agrees that sweet sorghum “is a potentially good ethanol feedstock because of its high energy content. The plant thrives across North America and its ethanol yield per acre is better than corn.”

Neeley cautions that there are drawbacks. For example, the crop is not easy to transport or store.

“Since large ethanol plants need a continuous supply of feedstock, sweet sorghum probably could not be the primary feedstock of a plant,” Neeley adds. “That’s because the plant tends to deteriorate quickly and is harvested just once a year in North America. Sweet sorghum has the potential to yield 400 to 600 gallons of ethanol per acre, compared to a little more than 400 gallons per acre for field corn.”

(Sources: Macon Telegraph, DTN)

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