“If we’re using starch as our conversion mechanism, or sugar, we’re talking about things that produce grain or sugar such as corn, or grain sorghum, or even wheat. Sugar would be sugar cane. That’s what the Brazilians use.”
Bill Rooney is a professor of sorghum breeding at Texas A&M.
“When we talk about cellulosic, we’re talking about using the whole plant, everything from the leaves, to the stalk, to the panicle as well. So we can expand that and use a lot of different crops, potentially, new crops can be used to make cellulosic ethanol.”
Ethanol production has created record demands for corn.
“What we use now is starch because that’s what we know how to convert and we have the systems to do it and we’ve had a lot of corn to convert.”
But corn production is not unlimited.
“We simply don’t produce enough grain to feed animals, to feed ourselves, and to produce the ethanol that we would need and so cellulosic is the only really effective way we can go in this country.”
Rooney’s research deals with growing plants for both technologies.
“Our program is really focusing on the cellulosic type that produce a high amount of bio-mass on small areas that can be used to convert into ethanol in the future. The sugar, the high stalk, or sweet sorghum, we’re also focusing on those using a sugar cane model.”
The Brazos Bottom has an eight month growing season.
“What we’re breeding for is a plant that grows over the whole season. It doesn’t produce a panicle, or flower, or reproduce. It’s what we call photo-period sensitive. It accumulates a high tonnage because basically in our country here we grow from March ‘til October, and then it’s harvested after that.”
Rooney says cellulosic ethanol conversion is close to being commercially viable.
“Cellulosic conversion technologies are in the pilot plant phase of testing right now. If successful, you should expect to see those expand dramatically over the next five to ten years.”
I’m Joe Brown, looking at Brazos Valley agriculture, From the Ground Up.