Friday, June 22, 2007

Global pro-poor biofuel revolution now possible


Posted by Bill Bradshaw
Thursday, 14 June 2007

The pioneering project to produce ethanol from sweet sorghum , being
implemented jointly by the International Crops Research Institute for
the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Rusni Distilleries, has achieved a
significant milestone with the first batch of ethanol flowing out of the
distillery at Mohammed Shapur village in Andhra Pradesh, India.

The ethanol produced at the distillery marks a major success in the
public-private partnership project. The project generates ethanol as a
biofuel from the sugar-rich juice extracted from sweet sorghum stalks.
This provides the resource-poor farmers of the drylands with a source of
additional income even while they do not lose out on food security.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the production
of ethanol has turned the dream of ICRISAT and Rusni Distilleries into a
sweet reality. Sweet sorghum ethanol does not compromise food security
since the farmers can continue to use the grain for food.

"The project successfully blends ICRISAT's scientific capability in
developing sweet sorghum varieties with higher juice availability with
the entrepreneurial capability of Rusni Distilleries. This we have
linked with the dryland farmers through the grass-roots networking
strength our other partner Aakrithi Agricultural Associates of India
(AAI)," added Dr Dar.

Though the Rusni Distilleries plant introduced the pioneering technology
to prepare ethanol from sweet sorghum, it has been designed to be able
to use multiple feedstocks. "We can produce ethanol from sugarcane juice
or from any grain including sorghum and corn grains that farmers have in
excess after meeting their needs," said Mr AR Palaniswamy , Managing
Director of Rusni Distilleries. "This ensures that we run the plant and
provide employment to farmers throughout the year."

ICRISAT's crop breeding successes with sweet sorghum will soon help
overcome the problem of getting sweet sorghum throughout the year for
the distillery. With the sorghum breeders at the Institute having
developed hybrids that can be planted at any time of the year, the
limitation of planting only during the crop season has been overcome.

With the monsoons approaching Peninsular India and the sowing having
started for the Kharif (rainy) season, ICRISAT, Rusni Distilleries and
AAI have launched a campaign with the dryland farmers of Andhra Pradesh,
encouraging and helping them to plant sweet sorghum.

According to Mr G Subba Rao, Director of AAI, the aim is to cover at
least 4000 acres during this Kharif season. The farmers have been
identified in village clusters, and seeds of improved varieties have
been distributed to them. A mechanism has also been designed to collect
sweet sorghum stalks from the farmers, have them crushed at the cluster
centers and the syrup transported to Rusni Distilleries.

ICRISAT is leading a consortium of partners for developing sweet sorghum
as a source of biofuel under the National Agricultural Innovation
Program of the Government of India . Under this project, ICRISAT and
partners are developing a proposal to strengthen molecular research and
breeding of sweet sorghum, and strengthen linkages between the farmers
and Rusni Distilleries.

Through its ethanol from sweet sorghum project, ICRISAT has been
promoting the idea of generating bio-fuel without compromising on food
production. "Our emphasis with the sweet sorghum project is that ethanol
is produced from the sweet juice available in the stalk of the crop
plant, unlike in the use of grains in other plants. The farmers will
continue to use the sorghum grain, while they can earn an additional
income from selling the juice," said Dr Belum VS Reddy , ICRISAT's
Principal Sorghum Breeder.

ICRISAT's emphasis counters the global debate against biofuels, which
are said to be taking away food crop agricultural lands for growing
biofuel crops. Already countries are taking policy decisions that will
prevent conversion of land available for food crops for growing biofuel
crops. The Xinhua News Agency reported that the Chinese Government has
asked biofuel crop growers to switch to crops such as sweet sorghum for
their projects. The Philippine Government has also decided not to use
corn for bioethanol production and has invested in research and
development of other crops such as sweet sorghum and cassava for this

Sweet sorghum has other benefits over sugarcane and maize as feedstock
for ethanol production. It requires only one half of the water required
to grow maize and around one eighth of the water required to grow
sugarcane; and has the least cost of cultivation which is around one
fifth of the cost for growing sugarcane.

Sweet sorghum is also a carbon neutral crop , according to the Latin
American Thematic Network on Bioenergy (LAMNET). This means that the
amount of carbon dioxide that sweet sorghum fixes during its growing
period is equal to the amount it emits during crop growth, conversion to
ethanol and combustion of ethanol.

The first batch of ethanol produced at Rusni Distilleries makes
available the crop and technology necessary to launch a global pro-poor
biofuel revolution.

Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts:

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