The University of Nebraska-Lincoln will lead a USD-13.5-million, five-year research to improve the properties of sorghum for the production of biofuel, it said this week.
The project is funded by the US Department of Energy and will see the university partner with a number of other institutions. Combining the work of geneticists and microbiologists, the research aims to increase sorghum's productivity under resource-limited conditions.
"It's becoming more recognized that we need to move biofuel production to more marginal lands, so they don’t compete with food crops," said Daniel Schachtman, professor of agronomy and horticulture and leader of the project. He added that the plants should not need much water or fertilizer.
The US currently relies on corn for the production of most of its biofuels. Sorghum varieties, however, create more biomass for cellulosic ethanol, which makes it a leading contender to replace corn, an important global food source, says Schachtman.  
Meanwhile, US biofuels and biochemicals maker Aemetis Inc (NASDAQ:AMTX) has planted, grown and harvested demonstration crop of biomass sorghum in central California in about 90 days. In a press release this week, the company said this was a validation of the potential of biomass crops for the production of advanced biofuels or as a rotational crop in California. The 12- to 15-foot (3.7-4.6 metre) tall biomass sorghum was produced using proprietary Nexsteppe seed genetics.
Aemetis' ethanol plant in California currently makes biofuels from sugars. Under a multi-year strategy, the company is looking to shift to renewable biomass feedstocks, first moving from corn to grain sorghum and ultimately to biomass sorghum and agricultural wastes available in California.