Alternative Energy: New Sugarcanes To Deliver One-Two Energy Punch
ScienceDaily (Oct. 20, 2008) New varieties of sugarcane and other
crops adapted to the U.S. Gulf Coast region are being developed for
use in making ethanol as a cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists, in cooperation with
the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station (LAES) and the American
Sugar Cane League, USA (ASCL), have already released three new
varieties of "energy sugarcane." They're called that because of their
high stalk contents of sugar and fiber, which could eventually serve
as complementary ethanol feedstocks.
Raw-sugar processors now burn the fiber to generate heat that powers
stalk-crushing and sugar-crystallization processes, notes Edward
Richard, who leads the ARS Sugarcane Research Unit in Houma, La. The
extracted sucrose sugar is sold for consumption or converted into
ethanol. However, Richard anticipates that biorefineries will use the
fiber as well, once technologies for converting cellulose into ethanol
become economically feasible.
The three new energy sugarcanes--one high fiber/low sucrose and two
high sucrose/high-fiber varieties--were released in April 2007 by ARS,
LAES and ASCL as part of a cooperative breeding program. The releases
also reflect ARS' push to exploit region-specific crops as feedstocks
that will sustain localized production of biobased fuels and energy.
Corn, especially that grown in the Midwest, is a staple feedstock for
ethanol production. But in southern Louisiana, soil conditions are
more amenable to sugarcane and sweet sorghum. Sugarcane also offers a
key processing advantage over corn-based ethanol production: Cane
sugars needn't be derived from starch using cooking steps and enzymes.
Rather, the sugar can be directly fermented into ethanol as soon as
the sugar is extracted from stalks.
Richard estimates an acre planted to one of the three energy
sugarcanes could yield nearly 1,240 gallons of ethanol using both the
sugar and fiber. To extend sugarcane's growing and processing season
and production range further to the north, his lab also is developing
cold-tolerant varieties of the crop.
Adapted from materials provided by USDA/Agricultural Research Service.