New crops on horizon for north Louisiana, Mississippi producers
Blazier’s study measures the carbon content of soils to a 3-foot depth and the organic matter residues left after harvest. In addition, the study involves measuring soil microbial biomass activity and functional diversity.
“We’re measuring the soil microbial parameters because soil microbes are essential for converting organic matter into nutrients needed for crop growth,” Blazier said. “With the microbial information, we’ll understand how well organic residues are recycled as nutrients, which can be helpful for Louisiana producers in making decisions about fertilizer sources for sweet sorghum and residue retention for sugarcane.”
The soil and organic matter carbon information the researchers are collecting will be used to determine the extent to which producing biofuels from sweet sorghum and sugarcane takes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it long-term in the soil.
“This is an important component of being able to enter the biofuels market since those markets are heavily influenced by domestic and international government programs and mandates to offset conventional fuel use with biofuels that take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than emitted in their production and use,” Blazier said.
After the energycane and sweet sorghum have been harvested, the crops can be brought to a processing plant, such as the LSU AgCenter’s pilot plant at the Audubon Sugar Institute in St. Gabriel, La. The pilot plant processes the crops to produce juice, syrup and bagasse for use in the biofuels industry.
Energycane and sweet sorghum are converted into biofuels using several different processes, such as the Optinol Process. This process comes from an industry partner on the project, Optinol, and uses a patented bacterium that naturally favors the production of butanol while producing virtually no acetone or ethanol.
Another process developed by industry partner Virent converts fermentable sugars into jet fuel.
According to Day, plants similar to the AgCenter’s pilot plant can be strategically placed so that they are located near energycane and sweet sorghum grown for use as biofuel feedstock.
“Producers would greatly benefit from having a plant such as this nearby,” Day said. “We would be happy to meet with anyone who is interested in growing these crops or building one of these plants. This would be a great venture for producers living in the Delta Region.”