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Sweet sorghum for ethanol? Research shows it’s a good possibility, but work is needed

February 5, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN - Nebraska does not currently produce much sweet sorghum, which is different than grain sorghum.

University of Nebraska Agricultural Economics Professor Richard Perrin says the sweet variety is ideal for ethanol production, but it is not profitable without a higher yield.

“They would need to increase the yield by at least 25 percent, maybe 30 percent, before it could become a viable approach,” Perrin tells Nebraska Radio Network. “That way, the farmers could sell it for a little bit less and the ethanol plants would stand to make a little bit more money.”

Perrin says the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) helps keep ethanol competitive, but there is political pressure to do away with that program, which would further hurt the chance of raising sweet sorghum for ethanol.

He says an east coast refinery is blaming its bankruptcy on the RFS, which mandates biofuels be blended with gas.

“It does focus attention on the issue that the RFS,” he says. “No one can have very high confidence in it, because it’s politically pretty unstable right now.”

If yields increase, ethanol plants would still have to alter their facilities to process sweet sorghum.

“The ethanol plant would have to invest about $30 million or so of equipment to be able to handle the sweet sorghum, instead of grain,” Perrin explains.