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posted by Fnord666 on Friday December 15 2017, @07:04AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the good-smelling-exhaust dept.

Feed your cattle, fuel your Mustang:

Sweet sorghum is not just for breakfast anymore. Although sorghum is a source for table syrup, scientists see a future in which we convert sorghum to biofuel, rather than relying on fossil fuel. That potential just grew as University of Florida researchers found three UF/IFAS-developed sorghum varieties could produce up to 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre.

"Sweet sorghum has the potential to be an effective feedstock for ethanol production," said Wilfred Vermerris, a UF/IFAS professor of microbiology and cell science and a co-author on the study.

Ethanol produced from sweet sorghum can be used for auto and jet fuel, UF/IFAS researchers said.

UF/IFAS researchers picture big fuel potential from sorghum partly because it's so abundant. Sorghum is the fifth largest cereal crop in the world and the third largest in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 2014, the U.S. was the largest producer of sorghum in the world.

UF/IFAS scientists like sorghum because it can be cultivated twice a year in Florida, requires little fertilizer, uses water efficiently and can be drought resistant, UF/IFAS research shows.

Combine this with terra preta to get more harvests per year and they might have something.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @07:11AM (7 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @07:11AM (#610170)

    The Chinese have been making sorghum vodka for centuries.

    • (Score: 2) by aristarchus on Friday December 15 2017, @07:44AM (5 children)

      by aristarchus (2645) on Friday December 15 2017, @07:44AM (#610178) Journal

      millennia

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @08:10AM (4 children)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @08:10AM (#610182)

        Brazil has been doing it for 40 plus years. The real question is: Can they harvest the sorghum for ethanol feedstock while ALSO harvesting it for grain, or not?

        Sorghum will grow back from rootstock if it is frozen or harvested, and can grow additional shoots either off the cane or rootstock after seeding.

        If the grain can be harvested while also providing cane sufficient to produce ethanol it could be quite lucrative. If instead it is an either or proposition, it is no better than the misuse of corn going on today.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @08:16AM (3 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @08:16AM (#610186)

          Umm, sorghum is not a grain. It is like sugar cane, but it produces molasses.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:28AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:28AM (#610224)

            Hint for you: Sorghum GRAIN is the part most often used for feedstock.

            The sorghum syrup, fiber, and bagasse can be made from the cane of any variety, and if harvested early may lack grain, but all sorghum reaching maturity will produce grain. The quality and quantity of grain, cane fiber and syrup will vary depending on variety.

            If you want to know more, Wikipedia provides a far more comprehensive explanation of the nuances of sorghum, as well as a agriculture research papers on the subject which can be found with a bit of googling and some patience.

          • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday December 16 2017, @01:55AM (1 child)

            by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 16 2017, @01:55AM (#610588) Homepage Journal

            I should have known, but had to double check. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sorghum#Cultivation_and_uses [wikipedia.org] I'm less sure than AC - does all sorghum produce USEFUL grain, or are the seeds of some varieties useless to man? Johnson grass, for example, is just a weed, as far as I know. If all sorghum varieties are like Johnson grass, they are difficult to eradicate from a field.

            Image of seeds from Johnson grass - other varieties will be similar - http://www.pottcounty.org/ImageRepository/Document?documentID=625 [pottcounty.org]

            One species, Sorghum bicolor,[10] native to Africa with many cultivated forms now,[11] is an important crop worldwide, used for food (as grain and in sorghum syrup or "sorghum molasses"), animal fodder, the production of alcoholic beverages, and biofuels. Most varieties are drought- and heat-tolerant, and are especially important in arid regions, where the grain is one of the staples for poor and rural people. These varieties form important components of pastures in many tropical regions. S. bicolor is an important food crop in Africa, Central America, and South Asia, and is the fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world.[12]

            Some species of sorghum can contain levels of hydrogen cyanide, hordenine, and nitrates lethal to grazing animals in the early stages of the plants' growth. When stressed by drought or heat, plants can also contain toxic levels of cyanide and/or nitrates at later stages in growth.[13]

            Another Sorghum species, Johnson grass (S. halapense), is classified as an invasive species in the US by the Department of Agriculture.[14]

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    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @04:22PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @04:22PM (#610335)

      Sorghum-Fueled?

  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by FatPhil on Friday December 15 2017, @09:06AM (8 children)

    by FatPhil (863) <reversethis-{if.fdsa} {ta} {tnelyos-cp}> on Friday December 15 2017, @09:06AM (#610201) Homepage
    > up to 1,000 gallons of ethanol per acre.

    Up to ~4500 litres of ethanol per ~4000 square metres?

    Per day? Per century? That is not a production rate unless there's a time component.

    And, as that range includes the number 0, I can achieve the same rates in my freaking bellybutton.
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    • (Score: 5, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Friday December 15 2017, @10:38AM (6 children)

      by Phoenix666 (552) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 15 2017, @10:38AM (#610226) Journal

      It's per harvest. If you scan the summary it says in Florida they can get two harvests per year. If you can use a very fertile soil like the terra preta the Indians in the Amazonian basin manufactured, you can get more crops per year than that. I have read, though don't have the citation at hand, that with the soil the tribes there were able to get up to 8 harvests per year. Can you imagine? It doesn't seem possible, but even if that's on the outside it still means you can get much more productivity out of your acreage.

      I suspect that if we ever really did grow fuel like this article suggests, then the same thing would happen to our food scraps that already happened with waste cooking oil--it will go from being refuse to feedstock (or compost, in this case).

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      • (Score: 1) by Gault.Drakkor on Friday December 15 2017, @07:32PM (2 children)

        by Gault.Drakkor (1079) on Friday December 15 2017, @07:32PM (#610411)

        Majority of plants are something like 0.1-2% efficient at turning sunlight into plant. Some plants, prime example sugar cane, are 4% efficient.
        Wikipedia article photosynthetic efficiency.

        Even if you can get 12 harvests a year it doesn't matter. The current theoretical max is incident solar influx * .04. The benefits are less then that due to fertilizer, harvest and processing costs.

        So return on invested energy is really low. Low enough that at this time it is below total system unity, well below. Cool research, but this should be research only.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:01PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:01PM (#610497)

          So, don't make energy from the sun, because it's not as efficient as making it from old dinosaurs?

        • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Saturday December 16 2017, @01:58AM

          by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Saturday December 16 2017, @01:58AM (#610589) Homepage Journal

          Unlike corn, sorghum doesn't require intensive fertilization. So, switching from corn biofuel to sorghum biofuel will save a lot of the energy investment.

          --
          Let's go Brandon!
      • (Score: 2) by Joe Desertrat on Friday December 15 2017, @10:55PM (2 children)

        by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Friday December 15 2017, @10:55PM (#610527)

        I suspect that if we ever really did grow fuel like this article suggests, then the same thing would happen to our food scraps that already happened with waste cooking oil--it will go from being refuse to feedstock (or compost, in this case).

        I wonder if we could grow such crops with raw sewage as fertilizer? Would save a lot of costs all around.

        • (Score: 1) by Crash on Saturday December 16 2017, @03:48AM (1 child)

          by Crash (1335) on Saturday December 16 2017, @03:48AM (#610606)

          Unlikely. North Korea has been using human waste for fertilizer, and it's suspected a large portion of the populace are infected with varying amounts of Tape Worms.

    • (Score: 2) by requerdanos on Friday December 15 2017, @03:08PM

      by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 15 2017, @03:08PM (#610306) Journal

      Per day? Per century? That is not a production rate unless there's a time component.

      Quite right. TFS says "twice a year," in Florida.

      And, as that range includes the number 0, I can achieve the same rates in my freaking bellybutton.

      Also quite right. It's not as bad as "Up to 1000 or more" (which would be the set of all real numbers), but still pretty bad specificity there.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Yaa101 on Friday December 15 2017, @09:16AM (8 children)

    by Yaa101 (4091) on Friday December 15 2017, @09:16AM (#610204)

    So we are going to exhaust topsoil for a little fuel? very smart...

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    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:17AM (7 children)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @10:17AM (#610223)

      I can tell you for a fact that unless you want added fertilizer/minerals for it to improve yield, you can literally grow sorghum or sugarcane in a bucket of water with sufficient sunlight, tropical heat (70-85 degrees or so, above or below and it tends to grow slowly/hibernate, too much above or below, or low humidity and it dies off.)

      Having said that, I got an excellent yield of sorghum grain this year and still have canes out in the field, but the sugarcane didn't grow much this year, unlike last. I had maybe 2 foot tall stalks this year after a full season, whereas the previous year I had ~6 foot stalks after the first 3 months, and 7-8 foot by the end of the year (they got rootbound which inhibited their growth later in the season.)

      Get water and even the most barren soil you can find and you will have no problem growing either sorghum or sugarcane so long as they stay warm and recieve sunlight they will grow indefinitely. As an added bonus, they made thick mats of roots, similiar to other grasses and will help prevent erosion of the topsoil. Or in the case of overly saturated soils, they will hold it together sturdily enough for you to pick it up for as long as the plants remain alive and for up to 6months to a year after that. Beyond that point the roots rot out and the soil will fall apart.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by requerdanos on Friday December 15 2017, @03:13PM (6 children)

        by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 15 2017, @03:13PM (#610308) Journal

        you can literally grow sorghum or sugarcane in a bucket of water with sufficient sunlight, tropical heat

        I'd be curious what the sorghum or sugarcane would then be literally made out of, given that it could not in that event be taking minerals, compounds, nor elements from "the soil" (there being none). Water is hydrogen, oxygen, trace random "other". Where's the carbon coming from? The nitrogen?

        I am not saying you are wrong--I quite believe you--I am just curious.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @04:12PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @04:12PM (#610330)

          There is plenty of carbon and nitrogen in the air...
          Most plants need the nitrogen from the ground (don't know about this one), but some can pick it out of the air, and the carbon (almost?) always primarily comes out of the air.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by HiThere on Friday December 15 2017, @05:54PM (3 children)

          by HiThere (866) on Friday December 15 2017, @05:54PM (#610375) Journal

          The big three for plants (and other life) are C H O & N. Unfortunately, Nitrogen can't be absorbed from the air by multicellular plants, though some have made a deal with bacteria (see legumes). Even more unfortunately, there are lots of trace minerals that are also needed, e.g. Phosphorous. But as so much water is highly polluted with fertilizers (see "dead zone") the needed stuff may already be present in the water you use. You need to test to make sure.

          As for "literally grow in a bucket of water" look up hydroponics. Also Water Lily (Nymphaea aquatica), algae, water-hyacinth. That's not a unreasonable claim, but most land plants need to get air to their roots or they drown, and I don't know about sorghum.

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          • (Score: 2) by requerdanos on Friday December 15 2017, @08:28PM (1 child)

            by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 15 2017, @08:28PM (#610438) Journal

            The big three... are C H O & N.

            Is this the Spanish Inquisition?

            • (Score: 3, Funny) by Joe Desertrat on Friday December 15 2017, @10:58PM

              by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Friday December 15 2017, @10:58PM (#610528)

              Is this the Spanish Inquisition?

              I...can't...resist...
              NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!

          • (Score: 2, Informative) by Crash on Saturday December 16 2017, @04:11AM

            by Crash (1335) on Saturday December 16 2017, @04:11AM (#610611)

            I've noticed that with my (mostly) succulent garden outdoors:
            The various plants will root and grow just fine in a wide stainless steel bowl of water and tree leaves, whereas
            They rot and die in planters that contained wet dense soil, and
            Mostly rotted with limited rooting in hourglass-shaped glass vases filled with water.

            Indoors in the windowsill, the same plants are able to root in cylindrical glasses or cylindrical aluminum mugs.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @09:43PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 15 2017, @09:43PM (#610488)

          Where's the carbon coming from?

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthesis [wikipedia.org]

          My kid learned this in 2nd grade...

  • (Score: 2) by jmorris on Friday December 15 2017, @04:57PM (4 children)

    by jmorris (4844) on Friday December 15 2017, @04:57PM (#610353)

    Here is the problem with biofuels. Assume they are right and can get 1000 gallons per acre. Average consumption in the U.S. is about ~400 gallons / yr which works out to about 0.4 acres per person. Now Google turns up a figure of about 0.5 acres to feed a person if comparing apples to apples, arable cropland of the sort you could grow a grain on. So we are talking about basically doubling the land required per person on a planet with a shitload of people already and not a lot of arable land that isn't already in production.

    So to get to the sustainable green utopia, who dies? Why is it that every plan for a utopia always seems to begin with step one: mass graves.

    • (Score: 1) by WillR on Friday December 15 2017, @05:11PM

      by WillR (2012) on Friday December 15 2017, @05:11PM (#610360)

      So to get to the sustainable green utopia, who dies?

      Whoever loses the wars when a billion or so people living in places that are flooding or turning into deserts need to move.

    • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Friday December 15 2017, @07:47PM (1 child)

      by maxwell demon (1608) on Friday December 15 2017, @07:47PM (#610417) Journal

      Taking the excessive waste of fuel in the US as base of the calculation is not reasonable, as a green utopia generally also includes a cut down on that waste.

      --
      The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 2) by jmorris on Friday December 15 2017, @08:42PM

        by jmorris (4844) on Friday December 15 2017, @08:42PM (#610445)

        Math and logic, learn it. The U.S. is a huge exporter of food at the moment. If we suddenly divert a large portion of our arable land to grow fuel, how much food goes off the market? How many people die? The U.S. is not likely to reduce fuel consumption all that much, as new tech comes energy use tends to go UP, not down. It doesn't matter how little gas some noble savage in Africa is using, they can't feed themselves; yet if they develop enough to feed themselves they probably are also trying to attain our lifestyle and will also begin diverting land to grow fuel. And arable land is now a fairly fixed quantity, better infrastructure and irrigation can bring some new 3rd world land into production but not nearly enough to feed everyone AND provide the fuel required for a civilization.

        Growing fuel means a much lower population, no escaping that. So you who support biofuel need to either own it or rethink. Do you support culling off 25-50% of the current human population or don't you?

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by requerdanos on Friday December 15 2017, @08:35PM

      by requerdanos (5997) Subscriber Badge on Friday December 15 2017, @08:35PM (#610441) Journal

      So to get to the sustainable green utopia, who dies? Why is it that every plan for a utopia always seems to begin with step one: mass graves.

      Sure, killing almost everyone might give some breathing room, but I don't think it's a solution at all, much less a good solution.

      Using renewable liquid fuels where only liquid fuel makes sense, paired with great increases in things like wind, solar, and other "free" renewables, is probably a better goal if you want sustainable energy. Which I, for one, do.

      Also, you've got that sorghum grows on land unsuitable for other farming, which kind of throws your numbers off a bit.

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