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Project Details

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Developing a new renewable fuel and food industry in Australia: sweet sorghum
Summary Sweet sorghum is a highly productive, short rotation agricultural crop with low water requirement, able to simultaneously produce large quantities of biomass, fermentable sugars and high nutritional content grain. It offers significant advantages as a bioenergy crop, capable of production of renewable transport fuels and renewable electricity while also producing high value animal feed and food products for human consumption. In Queensland, there is significant potential to utilise existing sugarcane and grain sorghum industry infrastructure for cultivation, harvesting and processing of sweet sorghum, which could minimise required development effort, leading to rapid uptake of sweet sorghum as a new rural industry.

This project aims to assess and establish opportunities to develop a sweet sorghum industry in Australia through evaluating the viability of a sweet sorghum cropping and production system for commercial coproduction of renewable energy and food. The project includes crop trials to assess agronomic performance and product quality; factory trials of processing sweet sorghum in existing sugar mills; optimisation of juice fermentation at pilot scales; and process modelling and life cycle analysis of the system.

Establishment of this new industry delivers significant economic benefits to Australia, particularly the rural and regional communities around which the industry will be based. Development of renewable electricity and biofuels products assists in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The establishment of a viable crop that requires significantly less water than sugarcane provides climate change adaptation opportunities for established farming businesses in traditional sugarcane areas and underpins the viability and sustainability of rural and regional communities.
Program Bioenergy, Bioproducts and Energy
Research organisation Queensland University of Technology
Objective summary The primary objective of the project is to assess and demonstrate the commercial feasibility and sustainability of sweet sorghum as a feedstock for renewable energy and food production in Australia, by:

1) Undertaking crop trials in SouthEast Queensland of the major commercially available sweet sorghum varieties to assess variety performance and to optimise crop productivity;
2) Assessing the yield, productivity, product quality and significant agronomic indicators for each of the commercially available varieties;
3) Evaluating the opportunities for utilising existing sugarcane infrastructure for harvesting, transportation and processing of the crop, including utilisation of transport and processing infrastructure in the noncrushing season;
4) Optimising the fermentation process for ethanol production from sweet sorghum juice including the cofermentation of the sweet sorghum juice with sugarcane juice or molasses at both the laboratory and pilot scale;
5) Developing a process model including mass and energy balances for a proposed sweet sorghum fermentation facility for the production of ethanol ; and
6) Undertaking a life cycle assessment (LCA) of the proposed cropping, harvesting and processing system.
Project Stage Closed
Project start date Sunday, May 30, 2010
Project completion date Friday, May 31, 2013
Journal articles from project Not Available
National priority An environmentally sustainable Australia
Rural priority Soil, water and managing natural resources
RIRDC goal BBE-Bioenergy, Bioproducts and Energy
Principal researcher Ian O'Hara
Research manager Duncan Farquhar
Admin contact Michael McArdle