EPA approves new sorghum oil pathway under RFS

The Environmental Protection Agency July 24 issued a final notice approving a variety of pathways for renewable fuel derived from sorghum, including biodiesel as a part of the Renewable Fuel Standard program.

Sorghum industry leaders see EPA’s announcement as a significant step toward leveling the playing field for ethanol plants extracting oil from sorghum. Members of the National Sorghum Producers worked closely with the EPA for over two years to establish a biofuels pathway for sorghum oil in the RFS, and the announcement was celebrated at EPA headquarters with political officials and farm group representatives.

EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the final pathway alongside Sen. Deb Fischer, R-NE; Rep. Roger Marshall, R-KS; the NSP; and the American and Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.

“Today’s approval sets the stage for more homegrown fuels under the Renewable Fuel Standard and adds diversity to our mix of biofuels in the U.S.,” Wheeler said.

“This is a win for American sorghum farmers and biofuel producers alike. The sorghum farmers are going to have access to a new market and the ethanol producers are going to be able to use a by-product of ethanol production to make biodiesel to meet RFS requirements. This will allow farmers to have a new entry point into the biofuels market.”

New opportunity for sorghum producers

“With this decision, EPA is creating an opportunity for sorghum producers to support a new fuel source stream for biofuel production,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford. “This is a good news story in helping meet America’s renewable fuels needs while protecting public health and the environment.”

“More and more farmers are growing sorghum in Nebraska, and it’s an important commodity in our state. EPA’s approval of a sorghum oil fuel pathway under the RFS is good news for Nebraska ag producers and rural America. I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to provide opportunities for Nebraska farmers,” Fischer said.

“This announcement is big for our producers back home. This pathway has been a top issue for our office since I came to Washington. Kansas is the top sorghum producing state in the country; I am elated the EPA has finalized the long-awaited biofuels pathway for grain sorghum oil. This pathway is crucial to not only our sorghum producers, but also our biofuels plants, and our rural economy. Farmers can use all the relief they can get in the midst of growing uncertainty in global markets,” Marshall said.

“This is a great day for U.S. sorghum farmers and our partners in the ethanol and biodiesel industries,” said NSP Chairman Don Bloss, a sorghum farmer from Pawnee City, Nebraska. “NSP has worked tirelessly for over two years to make this happen. A pathway for sorghum oil opens new markets for ethanol plants extracting oil from sorghum and ultimately adds value to the grain farmers produce. We thank Acting Administrator Wheeler for taking the step to finalize this pathway and everyone involved in the process that lead to this achievement.”

“Kansas produces more sorghum than any other state in the nation,” said Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts. “The opportunity to add value to those bushels is critical to our farmers and could not be more timely as we seek any and all methods to balance the books in a tough agricultural climate.”

“Nebraska Farm Bureau supports efforts to expanded market opportunities for Nebraska agricultural commodities, including grain sorghum. EPA’s announcement that sorghum-based biofuel meets emission requirements allowing it to be recognized as an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuels Standard is a win for Nebraska grain sorghum producers,” said Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson.

“We are very pleased the EPA has finalized the RFS pathway for grain sorghum oil biofuel production. This pathway provides a great opportunity for farmers to market their crops and achieve better returns by producing ethanol from grain sorghum. Texas Farm Bureau sincerely thanks Acting EPA Administrator Wheeler and Congressional leaders who made this possible. We look forward to seeing the positive effect this pathway will have on hardworking farm families in Texas and the U.S.,” said Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening.

“This pathway for sorghum oil reaches far beyond the farmer,” said Tom Willis, NSP board director and CEO of Conestoga Energy. “This is an avenue for creating jobs in rural America we so desperately need, and it helps provide energy security from a renewable water-conserving source.”

NSP Vice Chairman and Legislative Committee Chairman Dan Atkisson, a Stockton, Kansas, producer, said, “Kansas is the largest sorghum producer in the country, producing half the sorghum in the United States. Within the borders of Kansas, we have 10 ethanol plants. The approval of today’s pathway is critical to allowing those plants to utilize sorghum, but to pay more for our crop. This adds value to us at the farmgate.”

NSP board member Bobby Nedbalek, a Sinton, Texas, producer, said, “The infrastructure of agriculture needs a boost like this to stay healthy. Any farm community that grows grain sorghum will be better off because of the action of EPA today.”

Kody Carson, an Olton, Texas, producer and NSP board member, said, “I farm on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, which is declining and isn’t being refilled. We want to be sustainable. We want to be good stewards of the land and pass the land on. Sorghum provides a low carbon footprint. It’s good for the soil and good for water conservation. You’ve given us a step to be a better part in carrying the torch forward.”

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].

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How it works

In December 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency released a notice of proposed rulemaking concerning renewable fuels produced from sorghum oil under the Renewable Fuel Standard program followed by a 30-day comment period. EPA’s analysis showed biodiesel produced from sorghum oil has greenhouse gas emissions savings of 82 percent. This will give ethanol plants extracting oil from sorghum access to sell into the biodiesel market.

The newly approved pathways include biodiesel, heating oil, jet fuel and liquefied petroleum gas produced from sorghum oil, a by-product of ethanol produced from using grain sorghum as a primary feedstock. These pathways meet the greenhouse gas emissions reductions requirements to qualify to generate credits or Renewable Identification Numbers for biomass-based diesel and advanced biofuels under the RFS program.

In addition to the nine ethanol producers already extracting oil from sorghum, several other facilities will now be able to purchase and use sorghum. The pathway also makes possible additional investments in fuel infrastructure in the Sorghum Belt.

This new feedstock is estimated to produce around 21 million gallons providing flexibility in meeting volume standards of the RFS program. It also adds diversity to the biofuel mix in the country.

“While we don’t have growers here from Missouri, or Colorado, or South Dakota, we used to have ethanol plants in those states that used to use sorghum and they quit because they couldn’t sell their oil into biodiesel and be viable and economically, it wasn’t worth it,” National Sorghum Producers CEO Tim Lust said. “This ruling will allow those plants to come back into the sorghum market. As we look at lack of movement into the export markets, our biofuel industry becomes that much more critical. We appreciate what this means as we head into the fall harvest.

“This is also a win-win for the environment, as sorghum is a water sipping crop, very environmentally friendly. Certainly an opportunity to produce more advanced biofuels from a crop such as sorghum is something EPA and our industry can be proud of.”

Lust then thanked all those present, along with members of Congress from throughout the Sorghum Belt.

“We also extend our thanks to ethanol trade groups and numerous ethanol plants, fuel marketers and technology providers,” Lust said. This wide swath of support was key to this effort, and we sincerely appreciate the leadership of each one.”

The RFS program was created by Congress as a national policy to increase volumes of renewable fuel to replace or reduce the consumption of petroleum-based transportation fuel, heating oil or jet fuel. EPA implements the program in consultation with U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.