Penn State Researchers See Biofuels Promise in Sorghum

The state of Pennsylvania has an interest in the future of agriculture, which means Penn State has an interest in biofuel crops. Recently, researchers at the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) College of Agricultural Sciences have found a promising regional biofuel feedstock that can fit into crop rotations in Pennsylvania and the Northeast: forage sorghum [opens as PDF].

Cover crops are a good bet for biofuels in they don’t take cut down on the production of food-crops. Rather, they actively reduce soil erosion and leave nutrients in the soil for the benefit of the crops that follow, after being harvested themselves, typically for animal feed (in the case of alfalfa). However, in the future, cover crops such as fast-growing, high-yielding forage sorghum could be converted to fuel or burned to generate energy. This is the future that agricultural scientists at PSU are working towards: a time when farms will produce substantial amounts of biomass for energy production, as well as food and feed.

Forage_Sorghum

image via Stephen Pasture Seeds

Glen Cauffman, manager of farm operations and facilities at Penn State, who oversaw a recent investigation into forage sorghum on University fields, noted that the plant has garnered interest as a biofuel feedstock for a number of reasons. “Being a rapid-growing annual, sorghum has the potential to fit into a traditional crop rotation on a short-term basis and can yield 5 to 10 tons per acre of dry matter,” he said, in a statement. Which could be good news for biofuels in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.