2009 Awards

Optimal North Carolina Energy Crop Gasification Project - The Abell Foundation, Inc.

Funding recipient:  The Abell Foundation, Inc., Durham

Award amount:  $200,000

In collaboration with The Abell Foundation, Inc. the project leverages and combines the dedicated energy crop research and development expertise of Ceres, Inc. with the gasification technology expertise of ThermoChem Recovery International (TRI) to identify the most promising energy crops for North Carolina and then thermochemically convert those candidate crops at TRI’s Durham gasification facility.  The project team is committed to developing a diverse portfolio of products and traits to maximize the potential of energy crops to support North Carolina-based biorefineries.  North Carolina has some of the highest yields for switchgrass in the US (Figure 1).

The specific lowland ecotypes chosen for this study are the first commercially available varieties and have shown a 10 to 30 percent higher biomass yields than comparable varieties.  Ceres variety trials from the 2008 growing season for 6 locations in the southeast, representing 5 states, yielded an average of 10.6 tons/acre (Figure 2).  On a North Carolina basis, 6 tons/acre should be considered a very good yield (2) and Ceres varieties are expected to surpass these levels.  In addition to the lowlands, upland types have also been selected for evaluation.  In comparison, these uplands are typically shorter and finer stemmed, but are perform better in drier soils.  Growing and comparing the performance of all these cultivars will provide important data on yield potential and later on the differences in gasification processing.

In North Carolina, county estimates of the sorghum grown in 2007 and 2008 show a wide spread area of production (Figure 3).  In 2008, total planted acres were estimated at 16,000 acres.  The specific sorghum varieties selected for this grant are well-suited for these sorghum growing areas in North Carolina and have been specifically selected for their high biomass potential.  The selected sorghum varieties are a combination of two hybrid types (Sorghum and Sorghum-Sudan) that fit two possible harvest systems.  The Sorghum hybrid type is photoperiod sensitive, non-heading, has thicker stems and has the highest yield potential in a single-cut harvest.  The Sorghum Sudan hybrid type is photoperiod sensitive, has thinner stems and is well suited to a multi-cut harvest system.  Comparing the production of these high yielding sorghum types along with how they process in the gasification process will be significant goals of this project.

Sorghum Production Chart

North Carolina counties benefiting from this project: Durham, with potential statewide benefit

For additional information about the impact of Biofuels Center funding and a brief explanation of award recipient reporting requirements, click here.