Biotech Updates

ICRISAT: Sweet Sorghum Could be the Miracle Biofuel Crop

May 16, 2008

Sweet sorghum, a plant that can grow in extreme environmental conditions, could be the miracle crop that provides cheap food, animal feed and fuel, according to scientists from the India-based International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). “We consider sweet sorghum an ideal ‘smart crop’ because it produces food as well as fuel,” says ICRISAT Director General William Dar. “With proper management, smallholder farmers can improve their incomes by 20% compared to alternative crops in dry areas in India.”

Sorghum, the world’s fifth largest grain crop, is grown on more than 42 million hectares in 99 countries. ICRISAT estimates that 50 percent of the grain sorghum area could be grown with sweet sorghum. In India, sweet sorghum costs $1.74 to produce a gallon of ethanol compared to $2.12 for corn and $2.19 for sugarcane.

ICRISAT has helped build and operate the world’s first commercial bioethanol plant, using locally produced sweet sorghum as the main feedstock, in Andhra Paresh. ICRISAT and India’s National Research Centre for Sorghum (NRCS) have also developed sweet sorghum varieties to ensure a reliable and steady supply of sweet juice. They are currently developing sorghum varieties that are photoperiod and temperature insensitive. Public-private-farmer partnership projects with ICRISAT are also underway in the Philippines, Mexico, Mozambique and Kenya, as countries search for alternative fuels.

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