Sweet Sorghum: Raw Material for Ethanol

We dread the steady rise of fuel prices, but we are not without options. You have probably heard of ethanol and how groups, especially those who are espousing the cause of protecting the environment, are batting for widespread use of this alcohol.

Ethanol is a renewable fuel that is considered environment friendly and could help reduce the country’s dependence on oil imports. It is a high-octane, waterfree alcohol produced from the fermentation of sugar and converted starch, such as that from corn, potato, and sugarcane.

Ethanol is widely used in countries such as Brazil, the United States, Canada, Thailand, Japan, China, and India. The Philippines has also started programs on ethanol.

In May 2005, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo launched the National Bioethanol Program of the Philippines in San Carlos City, Pangasinan to mark the signing of contracts for a P1.5 billion-ethanol and power generation plant, which is the first in the country.

Wanted: Alternative Raw Material

Raw materials cannot keep up with the demand of producing ethanol. This is one of the reasons why scientists from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) conducted a study to determine the advantages of using sweet sorghum, a grain sorghum with sugar-rich stalk, as raw material for ethanol production.

Sweet sorghum is one of the two fundamental seeds which the Government of India, through ICRISAT, turned over to the Philippines for testing, and probably use, if found to be viable under Philippine conditions. Sweet sorghum has a wider range of adaptability, more rapid growth, and higher sugar accumulation and biomass production potential than sugarcane.

Ethanol in Fuel

Pure ethanol is not used as a motor fuel, instead, a percentage of ethanol is combined with unleaded gasoline. Combining ethanol with unleaded gasoline makes for lower fuel cost, increased fuel octane rating, and decreased harmful emissions.

Although any amount of ethanol can be combined with gasoline, the combinations, E10 and E85 are the most common. E10 simply means that the fuel is made up of 10% ethanol and 90% unleaded gasoline. E85 is 85% ethanol and 15% unleaded gasoline.

E10 is recommended by most automakers because of its clean-burning, yet high performance characteristics. In the United States, almost one-third of the country’s gasoline has been blended with ethanol since 2004.

E85, however, is recommended as alternative fuel for flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs). If E85 is not available, these FFVs can operate on straight gasoline or any ethanol blend up to 85%.

Sweet Sorghum’s Edge

The cost of cultivating, crops growth duration, and water requirements of sweet sorghum are far lower than that of sugarcane. While sugarcane is cultivated for a year or more, sweet sorghum takes only four months. Sugarcane requires around 36,000 cubic meter of water in a cropping season, sweet sorghum only requires 8000 cubic meters. Studies show that the cost per liter of ethanol production from sweet sorghum is lower than that in producing from sugarcane molasses. Producing ethanol from sweet sorghum is also less polluting.

Sweet sorghum is found to grow well in the northern part of the country. If the National Bioethanol Program of the government pushes through, we can stop holding our breaths for those fuel prices rollbacks, and bat for a certain degree of self-sufficiency in our fuel needs.

For more information, contact:

Bureau of Agricultural Research
Department of Agriculture
3/F RDMIC Bldg., Visayas Ave.
cor. Elliptical Rd., Diliman Quezon City 1104

Trunklines: 928-8505 or 927-0226
Local Nos. 2043, 2042, 2044
E-mail: [email protected]
Web: www.bar.gov.ph

author: Maria Lizbeth Severa J. Barona of www.bar.gov.ph

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