The federal government is on the verge of approving a grain mainly used as livestock feed to make a cleaner version of ethanol, a decision officials say could give farmers a new moneymaking opportunity, boost the biofuels industry and help the environment.
A plant in western Kansas already is gearing up to take advantage, launching a multimillion-dollar renovation so it can be the first to turn sorghum — a plant similar in appearance to corn — into advanced ethanol. Advanced biofuels result in even less lifetime greenhouse gas production than conventional biofuels, measuring from the time a crop is planted to when the fuel is burned in a vehicle.
The only advanced biofuels in the United States now are sugar cane-based ethanol imported from Brazil and domestic biodiesel, a mixture of petroleum diesel and renewable sources such as soybean oil, said Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association. Advanced ethanol made from sorghum would give the nation another option as it aims to meet the federal goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels per year by 2022.
“We need to continue to expand the base of feedstocks from which we produce biofuel,” Hartwig said. “It’s a good first step.”
Almost all the ethanol produced in the U.S. now is conventional ethanol made from corn starch. Critics of the ethanol industry complain too much corn is going to energy production, resulting in higher food prices for consumers. Corn affects food prices in multiple ways because it’s a widely used ingredient in food manufacturing and it’s used to feed livestock.