Success Story

Successful Partnership to Increase Adoption and Utilization of Sorghum in Bioenergy


This nomination details the successful partnership between a federal laboratory, university, collaborative sorghum stakeholder group, and a bioenergy industry partner to address an issue in bioethanol production and address barriers to adoption and utilization of sorghum—a crop in the United States that is more acclimated to growth in hotter/dryer climates.

The partnership identified a barrier to a grain processor, the biofuel plant, responding to the variability in local production of starchbased grains. Specifically, ethanol plants located on the Great Plains have influx between the availability of corn and sorghum based on the growing season. This necessitates the need to utilize diverse feedstock. A barrier to diversifying feedstock is the requirement to account for the grain in an infrastructure that mixes commodities in lieu of single commodity storage. Feedstock accounting supports both the management of fermentation efficiency and requirements of fuel markets. Addressing this barrier required high throughput technology that is scalable with easy adoption in a commercial processing plant.

Specifically, researchers at USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Kansas State University, The Center for Sorghum Improvement and Western Plains Energy, LLC, collaborated to develop and validate a rapid near infrared (NIR) spectroscopic test to determine the composition of corn-sorghum flour mixtures used in the production of bioethanol. In addition to this rapid NIR test method, the partners developed a real-time PCR method to support the rapid NIR methodology with a reference and validation method.

Adoption of the NIR technology was rapid due to the integral partnership approach. Western Plains Energy, LLC, has received the NIR calibration curve and reference samples, and is integrating the methodology into operations. In addition, an NIR instrument company and a bioethanol enzyme company have received the NIR method and are working with Western Plains Energy to further implement and develop the methodology. This expansion of the partnership to service providers enables broader dissemination of the technology. Further distribution of the process will occur by publication and stakeholder presentation in the fall.

Western Plains Energy is currently in the process of adopting this technology for use and has installed in-line NIR instrumentation to facilitate it. This technology could be used industry-wide where needed to help identify the composition of feedstock used to produce a given batch of ethanol.

This project leveraged existing strong partnerships between the USDA-ARS lab in Manhattan, Kansas, Kansas State University researchers, and the Center for Sorghum Improvement at Kansas State University (state government). The interface between the researchers and industry provided by leadership at the Center for Sorghum Improvement was critical to the success of this project and highlights the potential for future partnerships between ARS, academia and the sorghum industry. Sorghum is an important crop for the central and southern region of the Great Plains, with an estimated gross production value for the U.S. of approximately $1.3 billion (www Continued partnerships like the one detailed in this nomination will serve to strengthen and increase the value of U.S. sorghum and benefit the U.S. ethanol industry.