The US federal government is on the verge of approving a grain mainly used as livestock feed - sorghum, or milo - to be used as a raw material for ethanol production.
Officials say the decision could give farmers a new moneymaking opportunity, boost the biofuels industry and help the environment.
Advanced biofuels are said to result in even less lifetime greenhouse gas production than conventional biofuels, measuring from the time a crop is planted to when the fuel is burned in a vehicle.
The only advanced biofuels in the United States now are sugar cane-based ethanol imported from Brazil and domestic biodiesel, a mixture of petroleum diesel and renewable sources such as soybean oil, according to Matt Hartwig, spokesman for the Renewable Fuels Association.
Advanced ethanol made from sorghum would give the nation another option as it aims to meet the federal goal of producing 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels per year by 2022.
Currently corn is criticised for being used as a feedstock for ethanol production. The drought in the US has put pressure on the prices and it is a grain used for food, feed and fuel.
No food-fuel conflict
More sorghum going to fuel production is unlikely to spark the same complaints, because it is not the main ingredient in a number of foods. While it can be used in human food, it is mainly sold for use in feed poultry, cattle and other livestock. Sweet sorghum produces edible syrup.
Sorghum also has environmental advantages. It is more tolerant of drought than other crops, including corn, and it produces about the same amount of ethanol per bushel as corn while requiring one-third less water.
The Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that ethanol made from grain sorghum can qualify as an advanced biofuel if it's made at plants with the proper green technology. The agency has taken public comments and will issue a final determination later. No time frame has been set.
The question is whether ethanol producers are willing to install the equipment needed to produce advanced ethanol from sorghum.
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