Dryland performance of sweet sorghum and grain crops for biofuel in Nebraska

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Sweet sorghum [SS; Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench] is a potential biofuel crop for the Great Plains. Sweet sorghum was compared with corn [Zea mays (L.)] and grain sorghum for potential ethanol yield, energy use efficiency, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at seven dryland site-years in Nebraska. Seasonal rainfall ranged from approximately 340 to 660 mm. Soils were deep with medium texture at all site-years. The effects of seeding rate, N rate, and cultivar on SS performance were evaluated. Sweet sorghum sugar yield was not affected by seeding rate and N application at six of seven site-years, but yield was increased by 19% at one site-year. Calculated ethanol yield and net energy yield were 33 and 21% more, respectively, with the grain crops compared with SS, but mean net energy yield of an earlier-maturing SS cultivar was comparable with the grain crops. The mean ratio of energy produced in ethanol per total energy invested was 23% less for grain crops compared with SS. Mean life cycle GHG emissions were 53% and 66 to 69% less compared with gasoline for SS and grain crops, respectively. Very efficient use of the ethanol coproducts was assumed for the grain crops while SS bagasse was assumed to be returned to the field. At least one SS cultivar is competitive with grain crops for some biofuel criteria, but SS is not competitive with grain crops for total or net liquid transportation fuel produced per hectare.

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