EPA approves ethanol made from grain sorghum

Source: Amanda Peterka, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

U.S. EPA has found that ethanol produced from grain sorghum, a high-energy and drought-tolerant crop, achieves enough greenhouse gas emissions reduction to count toward federal biofuel mandates.

The decision opens the door for refiners to use grain sorghum ethanol to receive credit under the renewable fuel standard, which requires that 36 billion gallons of biofuel be blended into the nation’s fuel supply by 2022. Depending on the type of facility it is produced in, grain sorghum ethanol could count toward either advanced or traditional biofuel targets, EPA found.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson signed the final rule Friday, and it will take effect once it is published in the Federal Register.

Sorghum requires less water than comparable crops and is primarily used as livestock feed in the poultry, beef and pork industries. It is increasingly being used in ethanol production and as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free products, according to National Sorghum Producers.

To qualify as a biofuel under the renewable fuel standard, a feedstock must meet certain levels of life-cycle greenhouse gas reductions compared with petroleum-based fuel: 20 percent for conventional ethanol and 50 percent for an advanced biofuel or biodiesel. Cellulosic biofuel, or that made from plant matter such as agricultural residues, requires a 60 percent reduction.

In EPA’s decision, which the sorghum producers association said came after 34 months of work, the agency found that grain sorghum ethanol produced at dry mill ethanol facilities that use natural gas reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 32 percent, qualifying it as a conventional ethanol.

Grain sorghum ethanol produced at plants that use biogas digesters to provide energy and electricity has a 53 percent reduction in emissions, qualifying it as an advanced biofuel.

“This is a great day for the U.S. sorghum industry,” National Sorghum Producers Chairman Terry Swanson said in a statement yesterday. “A pathway for grain sorghum as an advanced biofuel not only incentivizes ethanol plants to use grain sorghum as a biofuel feedstock, but it also adds value and profitability for the producer.”

National Sorghum Producers expects at least one ethanol plant to qualify “very soon.” The association said it will continue working with EPA to include carbon dioxide capture activities in the agency’s analysis, which would allow more plants to qualify.