Sweet sorghum trials for us in ethanol production in Arkansas, US.
PHOTO: University of Arkansas
Sweet sorghum has been attracting global interest of late because of its potential as a multi-product crop; however, there has until now been limited research under Australian growing conditions or using Australian processing facilities.
Research by the Queensland University of Technology, in collaboration with industry partner AgriFuels, recently looked at sweet sorghum’s agronomy, its ability to be processed using existing processing infrastructure, its carbon footprint, its use as a biofuel, and its use in food products for humans, fish and livestock. The work was funded by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and AgriFuels.
Sweet sorghum is a fast-growing plant that produces a stalk up to five metres tall with a high concentration of fermentable sugars at a level similar to that of sugarcane. It also produces a large panicle of edible, nutritional grain similar to that of grain sorghum. Unlike many other crops used for renewable energy production, researchers say sweet sorghum can simultaneously produce food and feed co-products.
The project’s lead researcher, Associate Professor Ian O’Hara, says that sweet sorghum has a wide potential cropping area, including tropical and subtropical Queensland, the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia, and in temperate regions of New South Wales, Victoria and WA.
“Several varieties grew very quickly in field trials, reaching maturity in only 16 to 20 weeks, with fermentable sugar concentrations similar to those of sugarcane under optimal conditions,” Associate Professor O’Hara says.
“Our research indicates there are opportunities for the co-location of sweet sorghum and sugarcane production to increase feedstock availability for bio-ethanol production. In fact, we found that adding sweet sorghum juice to sugarcane juice resulted in higher ethanol yields than fermenting sugarcane juice alone.”
Associate Professor O’Hara says the research team also produced a range of sweet sorghum food and feed products including sweet sorghum flour, syrup, a breakfast cereal, fish and animal feed pellets, and human dietary fibre products.
Associate Professor O’Hara says Australia is well-placed to establish integrated bio-refineries producing sweet sorghum-based products for domestic use and for export to Asia.
“Further research and commercialisation activities will be required to help develop sweet sorghum’s potential for commercial cultivation and processing on a large scale,” Associate Professor O’Hara says.
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