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New opportunity for grain sorghum-derived biofuels

Irrigating grain sorghum near Gainesville, Florida, USA. Wikimedia Commons, by Larry Rana, US Department of Agriculture.
Irrigating grain sorghum near Gainesville, Florida, USA. Wikimedia Commons, by Larry Rana, US Department of Agriculture.

19 December, the EPA published a proposed rule that would classify the fuels as ‘advanced biofuel’ in the Renewable Fuels Standard.

If approved, the EPA would set out a new fuel pathway for the distilling of the oil into fuel. The provisional rule is to be released onto regulations.gov for comment.

The document stems from an EPA assessment of lifecycle GHG emissions in grain sorghum refinement. The study concluded that the grain’s performance represented a halving of emissions compared to baseline petroleum fuels, qualifying it for ‘advanced biofuels’ status under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS):

“Based on our [the EPA’s] GHG lifecycle evaluation described above, we propose to find that biodiesel and heating oil produced from distillers sorghum oil via a transesterification process, and renewable diesel, jet fuel and heating oil produced from distillers sorghum oil via a hydrotreating process meet the 50 percent GHG reduction threshold requirement for advanced biofuel and biomass-based diesel.”

John Duff, the strategic business director for National Sorghum Producers said that the ruling was something “that sorghum producers, their allies, and friends in the ethanol industry have been working for about four years to get to”.

“I’m glad we’re at a point where we have a proposed rule in draft form. I think what this does is, it affirms sorghum’s viability and sorghum’s promise in its ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Under the RFS, oil refineries and importers are required to buy renewable identification numbers (RINs) to show that they are complying with efforts to replace or reduce a mandated volume of non-renewable fuels. ‘Advanced biofuels’ RINs cover four of the five RIN codes that oil businesses are required to buy according to their obligations under the RFS.

Biodiesel associations sent a letter to President Trump earlier this week with suggestions to reform the RIN system. Oil producers have criticised the opaque RIN market, with Southern Senator Ted Cruz pushing to cap prices. The letter gave multiple options, including increased transparency, in an effort to avoid limited prices.

Irrigating grain sorghum near Gainesville, Florida, USA. Wikimedia Commons, by Larry Rana, US Department of Agriculture.