In Brazil and California, Ceres and Raízen announced that they have signed a multi-year collaboration agreement to develop and produce sweet sorghum on an industrial scale. Sweet sorghum can be grown to complement existing feedstock supplies and extend the operating season of Brazilian sugarcane-to-ethanol mills.
Under the collaboration, the companies will each contribute in-kind services and resources and share in the revenue from the ethanol produced from Ceres’ sweet sorghum above certain levels. This season, Raízen has planted Ceres’ sweet sorghum evaluation in a single location and plans to expand to multiple mills in the seasons to come.
Raízen, a joint venture of Royal Dutch Shell and Cosan, has taken a keen interest in developing and scaling up sweet sorghum as a means to grow margins and increase supply for its sugar and ethanol facilities. The company has conducted field and industrial evaluations of Ceres’ sweet sorghum hybrids since 2011. Raízen is Brazil’s fifth largest company in terms of revenue and the nation’s leading producer of sugarcane ethanol. With 24 sugar and ethanol facilities, the company produces more than 2 billion liters of ethanol, 4.5 million tons of sugar and 900 MW of electricity from biomass each year.
In addition to sweet sorghum, Ceres markets high biomass sorghum to mills and other agri-industrial facilities for use in generating electricity, heat and steam in Brazil. In the U.S., Ceres is marketing improved forage sorghum hybrids to dairies and livestock producers.
“During the past seasons we have made significant and measureable improvements in performance and we remain optimistic that sweet sorghum can be used to rapidly scale up feedstock supplies following the current downturn in the sector,” said Antonio Stuchi, Agro industrial director from Raízen. “By working with Ceres, we have early access to the latest innovations in seed products and leading experts in sorghum crop management.”
The sweet sorghum story in Brazil exploded in 2012 when Ceres announced that it had signed a sweet sorghum market development agreement with Syngenta. The companies said at the time they would work together to support the introduction of sweet sorghum as a source of fermentable sugars at Brazil’s 400 or more ethanol mills.
The prospects of sweet sorghum, once the hybrids have proven themselves in local trials, is robust in Brazil: the crop can extend the ethanol production season by up to 60 days in Brazil, can be grown on fallow sugarcane land and processed using the same equipment, and requires less water and other inputs than sugarcane. Brazil’s government had identified sweet sorghum as a strategic crop.
Further to that, and also in 2012, Ceres reported that their sorghum hybrids were successfully processed into renewable diesel by Amyris, under a U.S. DOE grant. Amyris is expected to present summary of the results at the 34th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in New Orleans, Louisiana. The pilot-scale project evaluated both sugars and biomass from Ceres’ sweet sorghum hybrids grown in Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Tennessee. The sorghum derived syrup was processed by Amyris at its California pilot facility into its trademarked product, Biofene.
Reaction from the principals
Ceres President and CEO Richard Hamilton said that the company is pleased to be working more closely with Raízen, which has taken a leading role in adopting new agricultural and industrial technologies. “The ethanol industry in Brazil has a history of successfully competing against low-priced oil and we believe that sweet sorghum, which has lower production costs than sugarcane, can be further developed and scaled up as an integral part of the industry’s feedstock supply,” said Hamilton.
Andre Franco, General Manager of Ceres Sementes do Brasil, said that the collaboration can facilitate adoption of Ceres sweet sorghum products and best practices throughout the sector. “By collaborating more closely with Raízen, we can continue to drive yields higher and address the industry’s need for additional feedstock supply,” said Franco.