Next generation biofuels are biofuels produced from sustainable feedstocks. Many of these biofuels are currently under development such as algae fuel, biohydrogen, biomethanol, DMF, BioDME, Fischer-Tropsch diesel, biohydrogen diesel, mixed alcohols and wood diesel. Purdue University scientists believe sweet and biomass sorghum are environmentally sustainable, easily adopted by producers and take advantage of existing agricultural infrastructure, which could make them the next big thing.
Sorghum is a kind of grass that was originally cultivated during ancient times in Egypt. The largest producers of sorghum in the modern era are still in Africa, although the crop has spread to southern Asia and the Americas as well. Sorghum is a tall plant, it grows over 6 ft (2 meters), although many varieties designed for cultivation are dwarf breeds, specially designed for easy harvest. Sweet sorghum is grown especially for the manufacture of syrup, but can also provide grain and fibers. Sorghum can tolerate heat well and is therefore suitable to be grown in dry areas. It can produce twice as much of bio-ethanol than sugar cane when using the same amount of water.
Another benefit is that sweet and biomass sorghum uses less nitrogen than corn. Corn has been bred to produce a maximum amount of seed, requiring a lot of nitrogen. But sorghum could be genetically developed in a way that maximizes cellulose, minimizes seeds and therefore, minimizes inputs. Sorghum could fit in with a normal crop rotation, unlike the perennials that would take up a field for a decade or longer, such as switchgrass or Miscanthus. Farmers are familiar with the crop and an infrastructure for sorghum production and processing already exists, making it a more cost-effective option.
According to Purdue researchers sorghum is not the ultimate answer to the problems facing the world of biofuels. They do think it deserves more attention as biofuel than it is getting now. Bringing sorghum back as a biofuel crop could also have an economic impact on poorer rural areas, that way it could be twice as useful.