The Edmond Sun

December 26, 2012

OSU using sweet sorghum to develop biofuels

Sean Hubbard
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — The U.S. Department of Agriculture, United Sorghum Checkoff Program, Oklahoma Bioenergy Center and the South Central Sun Grant Program have taken note and funded the majority of the research of Danielle Bellmer, associate professor in Oklahoma State University’s Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

As a member of OSU’s Biobased Products and Energy Center (BioPEC) and Robert M. Kerr Food and Agricultural Products Center, Bellmer’s research is focused on the development of biofuels from sweet sorghum.

“Sweet sorghum is a known high-energy, drought-tolerant crop with the ability to adapt to various climates and soil conditions,” she said. “It’s among the most efficient crops in processes of converting solar energy and rationing water use. Its high productivity, low input requirements and versatility make it an attractive feedstock for energy production.”

Uniquely, sweet sorghum can potentially provide carbohydrates in three different forms: directly fermentable sugar, cellulose and starch.

“One potential issue is it has a relatively short harvest window,” Bellmer said. “In order to make a process more economically viable, we would like to develop a dual feedstock system that could utilize complementary feedstocks such as sweet sorghum and sugar beets. We are currently working on processing options that could be used for both feedstocks.”

Sweet sorghum grows very well in this region of the country, and development of this process could represent a great opportunity for Oklahoma to become involved in the biofuels market.  

“The renewable energy arena could provide tremendous economic benefits to rural agricultural communities,” she said. “Several years of test plots at various locations around the state show excellent carbohydrate yields over a wide range of environmental conditions.”

For additional information about this and other research conducted by the OSU Biobased Products and Energy Center, visit bioenergycenter.okstate.edu/.