WASHINGTON, Feb. 19, 2014 - Research under way in the Deep South hopes to give Louisiana and Mississippi farmers two new “energy” crops to add to their portfolios. Researchers with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service and USDA are working together to bring sugarcane and sweet sorghum north of Interstate 10, the traditional east-west demarcation line for the crops.

“We’re looking at these as crops producers can grow in addition to crops they’re already growing,” said Donal Day, project manager for the LSU AgCenter’s Sustainable Bioproducts Initiative. “We’re looking at how producers in the northern areas of Louisiana and Mississippi can grow these crops to help supplement their incomes.”

Researchers say they are testing an “energy cane” for growing in northern locations as a feedstock for biorefineries to use in producing advanced, low-greenhouse-gas-emitting biofuels. The cane under study – a hybrid of sugarcane and wild cane   would be harvested for its high fiber – or biomass   content rather than the sugar it produces.

The researchers are testing five types of energy cane at locations in Tifton and Athens, Ga.; Starkville and Raymond, Miss.; St. Gabriel, La., College Station and Beaumont, Texas; and Waimanalo, Hawaii, as part of DOE’s Herbaceous Feedstocks partnership.

A unit of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service in Houma, La., is crossbreeding sugarcane with miscanthus, commonly known as elephant grass, and two ancestral species of sugarcane to produce a number of different energy cane varieties that can be grown in colder temperatures.

“Creating an energy cane variety that is cold-tolerant will extend the range of cultivation and allow for producers outside the traditional cane growing areas to produce energy cane crops,” said Collins Kimbeng, a plant breeder with the LSU AgCenter. “Creating cold-tolerant varieties also will allow for energy cane to be grown later in the winter months, prolonging the growing season and enabling producers to produce crops for longer periods of time.”

In pursuit of sweet sorghum as another feedstock. Sonny Viator, an LSU AgCenter professor and resident coordinator of the Iberia Research Station, says the crop has been identified as a high-producing sugar crop that creates juice that can be used to make biofuels and biochemicals. Just as the fiber in energy cane is used to produce biofuels, the juice in sweet sorghum is used to make butanol, ethanol and other products, he said.

Sweet sorghum “is a low-input crop, one that can be grown on marginal soil, and a crop suitable for sustainable production” Viator said. “It’s a crop that doesn’t have a real big footprint. And we’ve identified it as one of the sugar crops that can be used to produce biofuels.”


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