Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. hosted a bioenergy field day at the company’s 200-acre research center near Houston, Texas. The outdoor event, which draws industry representatives, policymakers and investors, highlighted innovations in the company’s development pipeline that are expected to increase yields and enable greater use of marginal land, among other benefits.
Among the field demonstrations, Ceres’ newest sweet sorghum hybrids drew the greatest attention. These products, which were developed under the company’s long-term, exclusive collaboration with Texas A&M University, have demonstrated high yields in test plots last season in Brazil. Ceres expects to begin selling the new hybrids later this year. Brazilian ethanol mills are currently utilizing sweet sorghum as a way to extend their production season.
For biomass markets, Ceres also unveiled the next generation of improvements in its switchgrass product line — the first hybrid switchgrass developed for bioenergy. These pre-commercial products represent an important step in switchgrass plant breeding and have shown significant yield increases over current products. Ceres product developers also highlighted seeded miscanthus varieties, which promise multi-fold reductions in establishment costs over competing miscanthus types.
Ceres President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Hamilton, who opened the morning event, underscored the need for greater scale and efficiency in bioenergy, and the fundamental role that feedstock plays. “There are many reasons to be interested in bioenergy. Biofuels already make up 10% of our fuel supply in the U.S., and it’s over 50% in Brazil. To increase levels even further, we need a supply of feedstock that is produced separately and distinctly from the food supply; one that is scalable, sustainable and economically attractive. That is what you will see all around you today,” he told attendees.
In addition to Ceres’ field presentations, guest speakers included representatives from Brazil’s largest ethanol mill group, Raizen, as well as processing technology company Fermentec and São Paulo-based market consultancy firm, Agrosecurity. Chemtex also provided an update on the expected opening of the world’s first commercial-scale cellulosic biorefinery in Italy as well as their U.S. plans, and a feedstock supply chain expert at Genera Energy shared an analysis of biomass production economics in the United States.
Jeff Gwyn, PhD, Ceres’ vice president of breeding and genomics, said the goal of the bioenergy field day is to help guests better understand the technologies Ceres uses to develop and commercialize new seed varieties and traits. “Plant science works. When we combine plant breeding with biotech traits, like drought tolerance, we can enable energy crops to reach greater scale and improve their ability to grow on marginal, low-rent land.”
He noted that the experience of seeing the crops close-up can change your perspective on bioenergy. “When you walk within a stand of full-grown sorghum, the sunlight quickly disappears. The size of the crops make you realize just how effective plants can be at storing solar energy,” said Gwyn.