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Sorghum Joins Corn, Soybeans At The Federal Biofuel Table

Grain sorghum in Bushland, Texas.
Susan O'Shaughnessy
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service
Grain sorghum in Bushland, Texas.

There could soon be a different kind of fuel going into trucks and planes, one that could help farmers and create rural jobs.

It’d come from sorghum: a grass grown around the world, but increasingly so in states like Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska. 

Its grain can feed animals and people, but the lobbyist group National Sorghum Producers has been fighting for years for a pathway into the biodiesel market.

Most biofuels get a significant amount of business in the U.S. through the Renewable Fuel Standard, or RFS. That’s a federal requirement that refineries mix a certain amount of renewable fuels into gasoline or other products.

Sorghum oil couldn’t help fulfill RFS requirements until now. The Environmental Protection Agency’s acting administrator, Andrew Wheeler, opened up pathways Tuesday for sorghum oil to become biodiesel, jet fuel, heating oil and liquified petroleum gas.  

That came after the EPA found greenhouse-gas emissions were low enough when sorghum fuel is burned to  meet RFS requirements. 

This move means more than having another biofuel, Wheeler said.

“Today’s approval sets the stage for more homegrown fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard and adds diversity to our mix of biofuels in the U.S.,” he said in a news release. “This is a win for American sorghum farmers and biofuel producers alike.”

Kansas produces the most sorghum, and likely will see greatest benefits.

Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall of Kansas told reporters during the announcement that ethanol plants were “the heart of every community” in Kansas, helping with everything from rotary clubs or hospice programs. So the move will help farmers, ethanol plants and those communities, he added.

National Sorghum Producers CEO Tim Lust also pointed out that it’s important to help the sorghum fuel industry because of the deepening trade war.

“As we look at the lack of movements into the export markets, our domestic biofuel industry becomes that much more critical,” he said.

Both farmers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have highlighted sorghum’s ability to survive with little water and how efficient the crop is.

This new biofuel would face the same challenges of other biofuels, though: the EPA has allowed dozens of refineries out of renewable fuel mandates. Wheeler has not said publicly whether he will continue handing out as many waivers as predecessor Scott Pruitt did. However, he toldReuters he would continue Pruitt’s work in overhauling biofuel policy.

Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media

Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative.