EPA announces next step for sorghum oil pathways

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Dec. 19 issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that provides an opportunity to comment on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels that are produced from grain sorghum oil extracted at dry mill ethanol plants.

This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking provides notice and an opportunity to comment on the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels that are produced from grain sorghum oil extracted at dry mill ethanol plants. EPA’s evaluation of the GHG emissions indicates that producing biofuels from distillers sorghum oil results in no significant upstream agricultural GHG emissions due to the extraction of oil from sorghum at dry mill ethanol plants.

Based on these results, biodiesel, renewable diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, naphtha and liquified petroleum gas produced from distillers sorghum oil via a transesterification or hydrotreating process would meet the lifecycle GHG emissions reduction threshold of 50 percent compared to the baseline petroleum fuel they would replace as required for advanced biofuels and biomass-based diesel under the Renewable Fuel Standard program.

EPA’s analysis shows grain sorghum, when used to make ethanol at facilities that use natural gas, has a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 32 percent. According to EPA, when grain sorghum is used to make ethanol at facilities that use biogas digesters in combination with combined heat and power technology, it achieves a lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 53 percent, qualifying it as an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuels Standard.

An NSP statement said this is significant news in allowing the domestic production of advanced biofuels from grain sorghum as envisioned in the 2007 Energy Bill.

“National Sorghum Producers has worked closely with EPA for 25 months to establish a biofuels pathway for grain sorghum-based ethanol in the RFS, as it provides more opportunities and better returns producing ethanol from sorghum.

In its statement, NSP thanked Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, and Rep. Roger Marshall, R-KS, for leading a bipartisan letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in support of the pathway. Rep. Jody Arrington, R-TX, also was a key partner in this effort.

In response to the announcement, Marshall said in a statement: “I’m pleased to see that the EPA has completed their review of the Grain Sorghum Oil Pathway and published the ‘notice-and-comment-period’ in the Federal Register. After meeting with the EPA staff this past spring, it was clear to me that a pathway for sorghum is necessary for our Kansas sorghum producers, biofuels plants and the environment.

“As our Kansas farmers continue to face decade-low grain prices, we must ensure that federal policy encourages new markets for grain and related products. I would especially like to thank Administrator Pruitt and his staff for moving this approval process to the next step. I look forward to seeing the positive impact this pathway will have in the Kansas First District.”

This pathway will mean ethanol plants are able to pay more for sorghum, but the immediate, direct impacts are difficult to quantify as basis appreciation due to Chinese demand is occurring rapidly and sorghum ethanol plants still face a disadvantage selling fuel in California. NSP said it continues working on the latter issue.

Emily Skor, CEO of Growth Energy, which represents ethanol producers, said in a statement, “This is great news for numerous ethanol producers who use grain sorghum as a feed-stock, as it opens up an additional market for one of their key co-products. Our industry has a history of leading innovation in the production of clean, renewable fuel and in creating value for associated co-products. This is an exciting step for producers who are poised to provide more homegrown fuels to America. We look forward to filing comments and working with the EPA to finalize this important rule.”