Nov 302011

By Linda Kor-

For generations, local ranchers have grown feedstock as an economical source of food for their livestock. Now some local ranchers are looking to grow feedstock too in order to provide fuel.

Two area ranchers, one in Holbrook and one in Snowflake, are each providing approximately 20 acres for the growth of a sweet sorghum grass for Chromantin, Inc., a Chicago biotech company researching the use of biologically engineered sorghum as a source of alternative fuel.

Ken Davenport, vice president of strategic development for Chromatin, explained that the objective is to create a higher BTU (British thermal unit) sweet sorghum that can be used as an alternative to coal burning fuels.

“We’re looking to grow and deliver green coal, green oil with the sorghum, which has a higher energy content than corn or winter wheat,” he said.

The reason for selecting the northern Arizona region to test this product is due to the two factors of quality and yield.

“It (sorghum) grows best at relatively high temperatures and grows well in conditions of limited moisture,” explained Davenport.

The testing also includes test burning the product at Snowflake Power, the biomass power plant that uses wood chips from forest thinnings as well as nearby paper mill sludge for fuel.

The company was the recent recipient of a $5.7 million grant from the PETRO (Plants Engineered To Replace Oil) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E). The funds will be used to develop sweet sorghum varieties that will be used as drop-in biofuels or as energy-rich replacements for coal in biopower. With this award, the company will be working to increase the fuel value of sorghum.

This was the first year that a crop of sorghum was harvested for the test. The company plans to test the burn of the sorghum plant with a new crop each year as the research continues.

“We’ll look at 2012 for sealing up development, then may approach other utilities outside of Snowflake. We’ll look at the data then perhaps scale up the effort in 2013,” explained Davenport, who added that the company is enjoying the opportunity to work with the people of Snowflake/Taylor, as well as the growers.

Researchers at Chromatin, Inc. are working with area farmers to evaluate the feasibility of growing biologically engineered sorghum as a biofuel.