Indian research body promotes sweet sorghum as bio-fuel

February 18th, 2008 - 11:42 am ICT by admin  

By Papri Sri Raman
Chennai, Feb 17 (IANS) India has a naturally smart crop in sorghum (called jowar in the country) that is capable of producing both food and fuel, a top scientist of the country’s premier crop research organisation has said. Only a smart crop that provides “food as well as fuel” can resolve the global debate on whether the bio-fuel revolution is causing imbalances in food security systems, William Dar, director general of the Hyderabad-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), told IANS.

Through its ‘BioPower’ strategy, ICRISAT is developing and promoting sweet sorghum as a major feedstock for bio-ethanol.

“The time has come to ensure that only smart bio-fuel crops are developed and utilised so that they can link poor dry land farmers to the bio-fuel market without compromising on their food security or causing environmental damage,” said Dar.

“Smart crops are those that ensure food security, contribute to energy security, provide environmental sustainability, tolerate the impacts of climate change on shortage of water and high temperatures and increase livelihood options.”

Sorghum is a kind of grass, mostly used in India as fodder plant and eaten in hilly and semi-arid areas.

Sorghum is the “fifth most important cereal crop grown in the world” and used as food in Africa and South Asia.

Sweet sorghum is a cane-like plant with high sugar content. Sweet sorghum thrives under drier and warmer conditions than many other crops. Most sorghum species are drought and heat tolerant and are especially important in arid regions.

“Sweet sorghum is a carbon dioxide neutral crop (low carbon emission), which is a big contributory factor of being called a smart crop,” ICRISAT says. One hectare of sweet sorghum absorbs and emits 45 tonnes of carbon.

Sweet sorghum generates 8 units of energy for every unit of fossil-fuel energy invested, which compares favourably with sugarcane and corn.

Gasoline blended with ethanol has lower emissions when run through an automobile engine than pure gasoline. E85, the fuel with 85 percent ethanol, has only one part per million (ppm) concentration of nitrogen oxide whereas gasoline has 9 ppm.

ICRISAT-bred sweet sorghum hybrids have increased sugar content in the juice in their stalks. Its rainy season varieties give 42 percent higher sugar yield and rainy season hybrids give a 20 percent increased sugar yield.

“Sweet sorghum has a strong pro-poor advantage since it has a triple product potential - grain, juice for ethanol, and bagasse (crushed stalk waste) for livestock feed and power generation,” said Dar.

“There is no compromise on farmers’ food security, since the grain is available for the farmers along with the sugar-rich juice from the stalk that can be distilled to ethanol,” ICRISAT says.

“It is a cost-effective and competitive feedstock. It has a shorter crop cycle of four months compared to the 12 months in the case of sugarcane.”

It requires much less water than sugarcane. Only 4,000 cubic metres (cum) of water is required to produce a kilolitre of bio-ethanol, compared to 36,000 cum required for sugarcane.

Sorghum requires 310 kilo of water per kg of dry matter, while maize requires 370 kilo of water per kg of dry matter.

The feedstock cost to produce one kilolitre of ethanol from sweet sorghum is $81.6, whereas it is $111.5 for sugarcane and $89.2 for ethanol from maize.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Posted in Business |