Study of sweet sorghum to benefit proposed plant

By Holly Jessen | May 23, 2014

U.S. EnviroFuels LLC, a company working to build a 30 MMgy advanced ethanol plant in Florida, will participate in a University of Florida-led project to study sweet sorghum as a feedstock for ethanol production.

A research team from the University of Florida was awarded a four-year, $5.4 million USDA grant to study the crop’s potential as an energy source earlier in May. Multiple varieties will be developed and assessed, looking at water consumption needs, growth in Florida soil, heat tolerance and the tolerance to disease and pests. Cellulosic ethanol will also be produced using a genetically engineered bacteria developed at the University of Florida.

The research project is good news for the proposed ethanol plant, which is behind schedule for construction and startup, said Bradley Krohn, president and chief technical officer of U.S. EnviroFuels, founder and project manager of Highlands EnviroFuels LLC. “Any R&D program that develops commercial sweet sorghum hybrids and improves the performance of sweet sorghum from a tonnage and sugar production standpoint will help the ethanol plant project going forward,” he said.

Testing will be done at two University of Florida pilot plants in Gainsville and Perry. Once U.S. EnviroFuels completes construction on Highlands Envirofuels, testing will be done at that facility as well. A 71-acre site in Highlands County, Florida, has been selected and multiple site-specific studies have been completed, including a detailed life cycle analysis and economic impact study, Krohn said. State air, environmental resources and consumptive water use permits have also been issued and the company is beginning detailed process design engineering.

Sugarcane is the ethanol plant’s main feedstock, however, the company plans to utilize sweet sorghum during the sugarcane off season. A total of 1,000 acres of seed sugarcane has been planted and produced, which will be used to grow the feedstock for the competed ethanol plant. “We have eight local growers who are investors in the project, and who will provide the vast majority of the required feedstock. These growers have signed 12-year feedstock supply contracts,” Krohn said, adding that six corn growers and agri-businessmen from Iowa and Minnesota are also investors.