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Bioresour Technol. 2009 Feb;100(4):1595-607. doi: 10.1016/j.biortech.2008.09.023. Epub 2008 Oct 23.

Production, transportation and milling costs of sweet sorghum as a feedstock for centralized bioethanol production in the upper Midwest.

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  • 1Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, Room 3202 NSRIC Building, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.


Sweet sorghum has been identified as a possible ethanol feedstock because of its biomass yield and high concentration of readily fermentable sugars. It has found limited use, however, because of poor post-harvest storage characteristics and short harvest window in cooler climates. Previous research (Bennett, A.S., Anex, R.P., 2008. Farm-gate production costs of sweet sorghum as a bioethanol feedstock. Transactions of the ASABE 51(2), 603-613) indicates that fermentable carbohydrates (FC) can be produced at less expense from sweet sorghum than from corn grain. Previous research, however, did not include costs associated with off-farm transportation, storage, or capital costs associated with milling and energy recovery equipment that are required to provide FC suitable for biological conversion. This study includes these additional costs and reevaluates sweet sorghum as a biocommodity feedstock. A total of eight harvest-transport-processing options are modeled, including 4-row self-propelled and 2-row tractor-pulled forage harvesters, two different modes of in-field transport, fresh processing, on-farm ensilage and at-plant ensilage. Monte Carlo simulation and sensitivity analysis are used to account for system variability and compare scenarios. Transportation costs are found to be significant ranging from $33 to $71 Mg (-1) FC, with highest costs associated with at-plant ensilage scenarios. Economies of scale benefit larger milling equipment and boiler systems reducing FC costs by more than 50% when increasing annual plant capacity from 37.9 to 379 million liters. Ensiled storage of high moisture sweet sorghum in bunkers can lead to significant losses of FC (>20%) and result in systems with net FC costs well above those of corn-derived FC. Despite relatively high transport costs, seasonal, fresh processed sweet sorghum is found to produce FC at costs competitive with corn grain derived FC.

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