Energy crop company Ceres, Inc. (Nasdaq: CERE) today announced its improved sweet sorghum hybrids were successfully processed into renewable diesel by Amyris, Inc. (Nasdaq: AMRS) under a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) grant. Amyris is expected to present a summary of the results this afternoon at the 34th Symposium on Biotechnology for Fuels and Chemicals in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The pilot-scale project evaluated both sugars and biomass from Ceres’ sweet sorghum hybrids grown in Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and Tennessee. To process the sugars that accumulate in the plants, known as free or soluble sugars, the sorghum juice was first extracted from the stems and concentrated into sugar syrup by Ceres. The syrup was then processed by Amyris at its California pilot facility using its proprietary yeast fermentation system that converts plant sugars into its trademarked product, Biofene, a renewable hydrocarbon commonly known as farnesene, which can be readily processed into renewable fuels and chemicals.
The inedible plant fibers of the sweet sorghum, known as cellulosic biomass or bagasse, provided an additional source of what are called cellulosic sugars. The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), at its Colorado pilot-scale biochemical conversion facility, converted the biomass from Ceres’ hybrids into cellulosic sugars, which Amyris subsequently fermented into renewable farnesene. The joint evaluation project was funded in part by a U.S. Department of Energy Integrated Biorefinery grant awarded to Amyris. The grant included a sub-contract award to Ceres.
“We believe that sweet sorghum could be an important and complementary source of fermentable sugars as the U.S. expands the production of renewable biofuels and biochemicals through the use of non-food crops outside of prime cropland,” said Spencer Swayze, Ceres director of business development. He noted that the free sugars in sweet sorghum are readily accessible, and with new technology as demonstrated by NREL, larger quantities of low-cost sugars could be made available. “As an energy crop, sweet sorghum is an impressive producer of low-cost, fermentable sugars. A second stream of sugars from the biomass would be highly compelling,” Swayze said.