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Photo: Sorghum heads.
International experts from government, academia and agriculture will gather for the International Workshop on Sorghum for Biofuels in Houston, Texas. Photo courtesy of Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

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USDA Conference Spotlights Sorghum's Biofuel Potential

By Ann Perry
August 18, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 18, 2008—Sorghum's potential as a biofuel crop will be explored at the International Workshop on Sorghum for Biofuels which begins in Houston, Texas, tomorrow. More than 100 international experts from government, academia, the private sector and the agricultural community are expected to participate in the conference.

U.S. co-sponsors of the event include the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Research, Education and Economics (REE) mission area, Texas A&M University (TAMU), and the National Sorghum Producers (NSP). Other co-sponsors include Brazil’s Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria (EMBRAPA), the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), and Tsinghua University, which is located in the Peoples’ Republic of China.

“U.S. consumers know that we need to develop new sources of energy to meet our transportation needs,” said REE Under Secretary Gale A. Buchanan. “Growing sorghum for bioenergy production can give us a source of renewable—and profitable—energy right here at home.”

Sorghum is attracting greater interest as a bioenergy crop because it is tolerant of drought and grows well on marginal lands not suitable for most other crops. It produces high yields even after an abbreviated production cycle, and requires minimal amounts of fertilizer and irrigation. Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), a USDA scientific research agency, are part of the international research community studying sorghum genetics and genomics, production systems and conversion processes to optimize biofuel production.

At the workshop, attendees will share information about key scientific advances supporting the economically viable and environmentally sustainable production and utilization of sorghum as a bioenergy crop. Participants also will be able to visit TAMU and learn more about ongoing research on bioenergy feedstock and development. Site visits also will be available to Jennings, La., where Verenium Corporation has broken ground for a 1.4-million-gallon-per-year demonstration cellulosic ethanol facility, the first of its kind in the United States.

Opening remarks will be given by Mark Hussey, interim vice chancellor and dean of the TAMU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and also director of Texas AgriLife Research; USDA Under Secretary Buchanan, and Liu Yanhau, vice minister of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Science and Technology. Other speakers on the agenda include representatives from the NSP, USDA, ARS, the U.S. Department of Energy and the TAMU Agricultural and Food Policy Center.