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Florida Lands $5.4M for Sorghum Fuels

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Scientists at the University of Florida, Gainesville, will use a $5.4 million federal grant to seek and study genetic traits in sorghum in order to boost its efficacy and sustainability as a biofuel crop and for use in developing bioplastics, UFL said today.

The grant from the US Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Energy is part of a $47 million program to fund bioenergy research.

Sweet sorghum is a common source of syrup and cattle feed, but it also is considered a promising feedstock for making fuel ethanol.

UF will use genetic mapping to identify genetic traits associated with drought tolerance and select strains that produce high biomass yields that can converted easily to fermentable sugars.

"There are many critical issues surrounding biofuels that are related to feedstock production," Mark McLellan, dean of research at UF's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences, said in a statement. "Yields, production efficiency, environmental impact, water requirements, are all important parts of this study. This project will help us understand how sweet sorghums line up as a feedstock candidate."

In addition to sustainability, the researchers will study sweet sorghum's economic potential and environmental impact, added principal investigator and Associate Professor at the agronomy department at UF's Genetics Institute Wilfred Vermerris.

"Sustainability and environmental impact have been of concern to many people looking at bioenergy production," Vermerris said. "We don’t want to create more greenhouse gases than we would using petroleum production."

Multiple varieties of sweet sorghum will be developed to assess factors such as water needs, the ability to grow in Florida's soil, heat tolerance, and susceptibility to diseases and insect pests.

The research also will seek to develop varieties that yield large amounts of fermentable sugars, which can be fermented to make fuel ethanol. In addition, the research will involve efforts to test these sorghum varieties on a commercial scale, as well as making biopolymers out of the waste created from the sorghum biofuel development process.

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