Innovation: Sweet Sorghum: An alternative energy crop

Last update: 18.10.2013
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Keywords: 
bio-ethanol, drought and poor soils adaptation, agriculture, biofuels, sweet sorghum, fuel technology, cold adaptation, biotechnology, fuel-food crop, breeding, sustainable development, other energy topics, sustainability
Increasing world market prices for fossil fuels, driven by limited reserves, growing demand and instability in producing regions, now render renewable fuels economical. Such fuels are also a pathway to reducing GHG emissions and mitigating climate change. Bio-ethanol from crop plants is a promising, partial solution to sustainably satisfy the energy demand for road transport. The success of bio-ethanol from sugarcane in Brazil demonstrates proof of concept but cannot be transferred to water-limited or temperate environments.

Sweet sorghum, as a source of either fermentable free sugars or lignocellulosics, has many potential advantages, including: high water, nitrogen and radiation use efficiency; broad agro-ecological adaptation; rich genetic diversity for useful traits; and the potential to produce fuel feedstock, food and feed in various combinations. Fuel-food crops can thereby help reconciling energy and food security issues. This project will breed for improved cultivars and hybrids of sorghum for temperate, tropical semi-arid and tropical acid-soil environments by pyramiding in various combinations, depending on region and ideotype, tolerance to cold, drought and acid (Al-toxic) soils; and high production of stalk sugars, easily digestible biomass and grain (WP 1-3).

Molecular-genetic and physiological breeding support is given by WP4, and agro-ecological adaptation and sustainable practices are developed by WP5. Other WPs (6, 7, 8) provide for integrated technology and impact assessments including economics, dissemination and coordination. The Consortium is composed of 10 members from France (leader), Italy, Germany, Brazil, India, Mexico and South Africa, including a seed company. Research involves structured participation of stake holders, including policy makers. Project outcomes will be new germplasm, sustainable practices and commodity chain concepts adapted to each target region. The duration of the project is 5 years.

PROJECT GOALS:

The main objective of SWEETFUEL is to exploit the advantages of sweet sorghum as potential energy crop through:
• Development of bioethanol production from sweet sorghum in temperate and semi-arid regions through genetic enhancement
• Improvement of cultural and harvest practices for optimized yields

In order to achieve this objective, activities of the SWEETFUEL project include to:

• Breed sweet sorghum ideotypes specially adapted to temperate climates, drought prone environments and poor soils
• Improve knowledge on the relationships among traits for sugar accumulation, plant phenology, stay-green and terminal drought tolerance
• Understand the agronomic determinants of optimized yield and recommend cultivation and harvest techniques
• Provide a multi-criteria (social, economic and environmental) sustainability evaluation of sweet sorghum value chains
• Promote the exchanges between RTD experts, stakeholders and key actors
• Identify and monitor ethical risks resulting from ethanol production from sweet sorghum and to propose guidelines for policy makers
SWEETFUEL aims to breed sweet sorghum varieties better adapted to temperate region and semi arid tropics, for bio-ethanol production.

To attain that goal, SWEETFUEL includes a major breeding effort, split into 3 work packages according to target environments and production systems.

• WP1: Breeding for low temperature environments
The general objective of this WP is to develop sorghum hybrids optimised for yield and composition of biomass and better adapted to temperate environments. Improved sorghum hybrids have the potential to benefit farmers and agro-industries and contribute to a future sustainable energy supply in Europe.

• WP2: Breeding for drought prone environments
The general objective of this WP is to develop new lines or hybrids of sweet sorghum with
- juicy stems with high total sugar content (>17%),
- good production of grain suitable for human or animal alimentation and high biomass with stem girth >2.5 cm,
- better resistance to drought with good adaptation to rainy and/or post rainy season in India,
- improved bagasse digestibility making bagasse suitable for fodder use.

• WP3: Breeding for low-fertility environments
The general objective of this WP is to develop new lines or hybrids of sweet sorghum with
- juicy stems with high total sugar content,
- good production of grain suitable for human or animal alimentation,
- better adaptation to soil limiting constraints,
- improved bagasse digestibility making bagasse suitable for fodder use.


Breeding support is provided by 2 other WPs:

• WP4: Functional analysis and productivity traits
This WP identifies useful traits in sweet sorghums for bio-ethanol production, and characterizes their physiological and genetic basis. It evaluates phenotypic expression of such traits (alone and in combination) and develops ideotype concepts as targets for breeding.

• WP5: Cultural practices & plant modelling
The overall objective of WP5 is to understand the agronomic determinants of optimized yield in sweet sorghum, evaluate material used and produced on the basis of agronomic traits, and develop a sweet sorghum model. Field evaluation, growth chambers and laboratory tests will be used to identify major yield constraints and diagnostic trait linked to the yield. Parameters as water consumption, nutrient uptake, time and energy consumption of harvest and field operation will be collected and sent to the partners in charge of environmental and economic assessments.


Based on the technologies generated by WP1 to 5 (new varieties, choice of appropriate cultural practices and harvest technologies), a global assessment of the resulting, bio-ethanol based commodity chains, organizational requirements and best choices of transformation technologies in full consideration of the targeted, socio-economic and bio-physical environments will be performed:

• WP6: Integrated assessment
The activities in WP6 will provide a multicriteria evaluation of the sustainability of sweet sorghum production and use routes taking into account technological, environmental, economic and social aspects.
This integrated assessment of sustainability will generate optimized sweet sorghum production and use systems.


Project results (seed/genotypes, recommended practices and concepts for commodity chain development) generated by SWEETFUEL will be transferred to stakeholders (farmers, farmers organizations, NARS, agro-industries, policy makers).
Framework Programme to exploit the advantages of sweet sorghum as potential energy crop for bioethanol production.

Sweet sorghum is a C4 plant with the following interesting characteristics:
(i) its growth cycle is short (about four months) facilitating double cropping,
(ii) it can be easily grown from seeds,
(iii) its production can be completely mechanized,
(iv) it can produce sugar in the stalk and starch in the grain,
(v) it has a high water and nutrient use efficiency,
(vi) the bagasse produced from sweet sorghum has high biological value when used as forage and
(vii) it has a wide adaptability to different environments.

However, unlike sugarcane and maize, sweet sorghum has little breeding history. The potential of yield improvement through genetic enhancement is thus very high.

The main objective of SWEETFUEL is to optimize yields in temperate, semi-arid and sub-tropical regions by genetic enhancement and improvement of agricultural practices.

Expected results:
- Improve our knowledge on the accumulation of sugars (trade offs with grain and biomasse production, key enzymes…) and the relationships among traits for sugar accumulation, plant phenology, stay-green and terminal drought tolerance
- Understand the agronomic determinants of optimized yield and recommend the best cultural and harvest techniques; Elaborate a plant model for sweet sorghum to identify potential area for production
- Provide a multicriteria evaluation of the sustainability of the bioethanol production from sweet sorghum on a social, economic and environmental point of view
- Promote the exchanges between RTD experts, stakeholders and key actors. Elaborate a detailed exploitation plan
- Identify and monitor evolution of the ethical risks due to the development of ethanol production from sweet sorghum and propose guidelines for policy makers

This innovation is the result of the project

Title: Sweet Sorghum: An Alternative Energy Crop

Acronym: 
SWEETFUEL

Runtime: 
01.01.2009 to 31.12.2013

Status: 
completed project

Organisations and people involved in this eco-innovation.

Please click on an entry to view all contact details.

CENTRE DE COOPERATION INTERNATIONAL EN RECHERCHE AGRONOMIQUE POUR LE DEVELOPPEMENT

Field: Agriculture, Scientific research and development (France)

Role in project: Project Coordination

Contact person: Dr. BRACONNIER Serge

Website: http://www.cirad.fr

Phone: +33-467 61 7539

Contact

AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH COUNCIL (ARC)

(South Africa)

Contact person: Dr. VAN DER MERWE Piet

Website: http://www.arc.agric.za

Phone: +27-182996215

Contact

ALMA MATER STUDIORUM-UNIVERSITA DI BOLOGNA

(Italy)

Contact person: Dr. MONTI Andrea

Website: http://www.unibo.it

Phone: +39-0512096653

Contact

EMPRESA BRASILEIRA DE PESQUISA AGROPECUARIA

(Brazil)

Contact person: Dr. SCHAFFERT Robert

Website: http://www.embrapa.br

Phone: +55-31-37791076

Contact

IFEU - INSTITUT FUER ENERGIE- UND UMWELTFORSCHUNG HEIDELBERG GMBH

(Germany)

Contact person: Dr. REINHARDT Guido

Website: http://www.ifeu.de

Phone: +49-6221476731

Contact

INTERNATIONAL CROPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE SEMI-ARID TROPICS

(India)

Contact person: Dr. AGRAWAL Rajesh

Website: http://www.icrisat.org

Phone: +91-4030713071

Contact

KWS SAAT AG

(Germany)

Contact person: Mr. HEIDHUES Robert

Website: http://www.kws.com

Phone: +49-5561311351

Contact

UNIVERSIDAD AUTONOMA DE NUEVO LEON

(Mexico)

Contact person: Ms. SALAS DE LA ROSA Nora Luisa

Website: http://www.uanl.mx

Phone: +52-8212124251/125

Contact

UNIVERSITA CATTOLICA DEL SACRO CUORE

(Italy)

Contact person: Dr. RANELLI Libero

Website: http://www.unicattolica.it

Phone: +39-0523599122

Contact

WIRTSCHAFT UND INFRASTRUKTUR GMBH & CO PLANUNGS KG

(Germany)

Contact person: Ms. MEYER-HAEGE Christine

Website: http://www.wip-munich.de

Phone: +49-8972012719

Contact