Sorghum deserves designation as federally approved renewable fuel
Federal designation of sorghum-based ethanol as a renewable fuel is good for the nation and for Kansas, its top sorghum-growing state.
The Environmental Protection Agency late last month released a determination that ethanol made from grain sorghum meets federal standards to count toward the nation's goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by 2022.
Traditionally, ethanol manufactured in the U.S. as an alternative to petroleum-based gasoline has been made with corn. But sorghum is a much better alternative because it takes far less water to grow. That's especially an issue in water-short climates such as western Kansas, where we really should not be irrigating to grow corn.
Sixty percent of the ethanol produced in Kansas now is made from sorghum, so we're already on the right track.
Why sorghum-based ethanol didn't previously qualify as a renewable fuel under federal standards seems almost a mystery. But it appears to have to do with the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process.
To qualify, sorghum ethanol must come from a dry-mill plant using natural gas meeting 20 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Or, grain sorghum produced at a plant that uses biogas, such as methane, meeting an emission standard of at least 50 percent reduction, can qualify as an advanced biofuel.
At least one ethanol plant in Kansas already may qualify as an advanced biofuel producer. Western Plains Energy in Oakley is readying its plant to use waste from cattle and swine feedlots and landfill waste to generate methane gas to power its ethanol plant. Meanwhile, Conestoga Energy in Garden City uses carbon dioxide trapped in oil wells as part of its sorghum ethanol production.
That's exactly the kind of innovative energy production that deserves to be recognized. Federal standards for renewable fuel designation recognize that it isn't just the environmental value of the fuel itself but what it takes to manufacture it that matters.
By John D. Montgomery/Hutchinson News editorial board