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“De-Carbonizing” Using Energy Crops

Ceres Field Day“We cannot de-carbonize the world’s energy supply without biomass,” said Richard Hamilton, president of Ceres, a developer of energy crops including switchgrass, high-biomass sorghum, sweet sorghum and miscanthus. Hamilton spoke yesterday to energy industry executives at a Ceres field day near Houston, Texas.

The field day included side-by-side crop comparisons, field demos and presentations from companies, including DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol and General Motors.

Photo: Ceres sorghum breeder Edgar Haro describes how Ceres has improved biomass yields in sorghum through its Skyscraper trait.

The crop comparisons highlighted the relative strengths and weaknesses of different crops being considered for bioenergy, said Gary Koppenjan, corporate communications manager, Ceres. For instance, Giant Reed (Arundo), a species on which Ceres is not working, produces high yields, but requires a lot more water than other crops. Current types are also invasive in many places, Koppenjan said.

While yield is the company’s most important goal in developing these energy crops, establishment cost and sustainability goals must be met as well, Koppenjan said.

While the field day was held in Texas, the company’s EG 1101 and EG 1102 switchgrass varieties are adapted to the Midwest. Another variety, EG 2101, is more suited to northern areas. “Our high-biomass types ES 5200 and ES 5201, with the high-biomass Skyscraper trait, are also widely adapted [including the Midwest],” Koppenjan added.

At the field day, Ceres reported that one of its traits could reduce oil consumption in the U.S. by more than a billion barrels over a decade, and substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making grasses even more efficient at utilizing nitrogen fertilizers.

“This trait development is being supported by a Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy [ARPA-E] grant due to the dramatic impact it could have on yields and nitrogen use,” Koppenjan said. “Results have shown up to a 50% yield increase without increasing nitrogen.” He added that a single high-impact trait like this would by itself achieve 10% of the Obama administration’s goal of reducing oil imports.” The reduction in greenhouse gases would be equal to the carbon dioxide emissions from all the coal-fired power plants in the Mid-Atlantic states, he added.

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