Grants help develop sorghum feedstock program in California

By Holly Jessen | August 18, 2014

Ethanol producers in California would benefit if local farmers would grow sorghum as an ethanol feedstock, said Lyle Schlyer, president of Calgren Renewable Fuels LLC. “So much of the feedstock that we consume comes from the Midwest and, love those guys, but it does seem like carting material halfway across the country may not be the most efficient thing,” he said.

Now, grant money has been awarded to three California ethanol plants to develop a sorghum feedstock program. Calgren Renewable Fuels, Aemetis Inc. and Pacific Ethanol Inc. each received a $3 million matching grant from the California Energy Commission’s Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. “We’re business. It’s got to make commercial sense,” he said. “We’re willing to invest the time and the money and the energy commission agrees with that approach, obviously, because they issued the grant.”

Sorghum is appealing as an ethanol feedstock because it requires less water to grow and California is in the midst of a drought, Schlyer told Ethanol Producer Magazine. Although each of the three ethanol producers will use the money in different ways, one of the main goals is to encourage California farmers to grow the crop. Although the grant money will be spent over a three-year period Schlyer feels it will take at least five years to develop local sorghum supplies. “It’s not a short term thing,” he said, adding that, in the meantime, the three ethanol plants have been working to develop supply lines from elsewhere. “It doesn’t have to be exclusively California sorghum but obviously that has a real appeal for us, long term,” he said. “But in the interim we suspect we will be using sorghum from the Midwest, just because that’s what’s available.”

Although the ratio of corn to sorghum varies, the amount of sorghum can be quite high. “We would not rule out 100 percent, if that made commercial sense,” he said.

Some of the grant money will be spent on university-led agronomic studies of sorghum. The ethanol plants will also be working with sorghum seed companies, to identify what seed varieties would grow the best in California. And, some equipment will also be purchased, to allow ethanol producers to better handle the grain on site, he said.

Calgren Renewable Energy operates a 58 MMgy ethanol plant Pixley while Aemetis Advanced Fuels Keyes Inc. is a 60 MMgy facility in Keyes.  The third company, Pacific Ethanol, has two California ethanol plants, a 40 MMgy facility in Medera that was restarted earlier this year and a 60 MMgy plant in Stockton, as well as two other facilities in Boardman, Ore., and Burley, Idaho.