Sorghum’s Next Step

Posted on July 9th in news

NexSteppe Launches
Two New Sorghum Brands

NexSteppe has unveiled its first two sorghum brands, aiming to market biomass sorghum and sweet sorghum in the United States and Brazil for the production of biofuels, biopower, and bioproducts.

Anna Rath, NexSteppe’s founder and chief executive officer, predicted that the sweet and biomass sorghum hybrids will play a critical role in the continued development of bio-based industries in the world. “Sorghum is the best choice for a global bio-based industry,”

A sorghum hybrid plant from NexSteppe emerges in a growing-trial test plot.

Rath told BioFuels Journal, because of its unique traits and characteristics. “NexSteppe is singularly focused on bringing to market feedstock products that will enable the bio-based industries to achieve scale, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability.” Rath founded NexSteppe in October 2010. The company began operations in March 2011. It has corporate headquarters in South Francisco, CA (650-887-5700), a U.S. research station in Hereford, TX, and a winter nursery in Puerto Rico. Its Brazilian corporate offices are in Campinas, in the state of Sao Paulo, and its research station is at Rio Verde, in Goias state.

First Sorghum Hybrids
The company’s first sorghum hybrid brands to be marketed are called Malibu sweet sorghum and Palo Alto biomass sorghum.

There are six hybrids offered under the Malibu brand, which is intended to be grown for its sugar content, and one hybrid under the Palo Alto brand, which is a biomass crop that can be used for the production of cellulosic ethanol and for biomass power.

Growing trials are being held at 15 locations in the southeastern and northwestern United States and in 20 locations in Brazil, Rath said.

NexSteppe plans to introduce new versions of both the Malibu and Palo Alto hybrids next year.

“As we improve the crop,” Rath stated, “we would expect to have new second generation hybrids in 2014.”

NexSteppe’s Malibu sweet sorghum hybrids were named for the city where the company was founded.

Rath said the six Malibu hybrids provide an easily accessible source of fermentable sugars for the production of advanced biofuels and biobased products. Malibu sweet sorghums can complement sugarcane production in Brazil to provide additional feedstocks for existing sugar-to-ethanol mills, she said.

Brazilian sugar-to-ethanol mills usually operate from April through November, Rath explained, because that’s when cane sugar is available. By planting sweet sorghum on fallow sugar cane land, sugar cane ethanol producers can start their mills a month or two earlier than usual.

NexSteppe’s Malibu sorghum, shown growing here, is intended to be grown for its sugar content as a complementary “drop-in” for sugar cane.

Drop-in Sugar
Sorghum can be grown on the same land, harvested, and crushed using the same equipment, and fermented using the same yeast as sugar cane, making Malibu sweet sorghum a true complementary “drop-in” for sugar cane, Rath stated.

Because sorghum production requires less water than sugar cane, Malibu sweet sorghums can also provide a fermentable sugar feedstock in areas where sugarcane does not perform well. “Our first generation of Malibu sweet sorghum hybrids is designed to provide a wide range of maturities to meet varying customer harvest- window profiles,” Rath said. “Several of these hybrids were also selected for their yield performance in tropical short day-length environments to help enable year-round production.”

NexSteppe is singularly focused on bringing to market feedstock products that will enable the biobased industries to achieve scale, cost-effectiveness, and sustainability.

Anna Rath CEO NexSteppe

NexSteppe’s Palo Alto biomass sorghum in Brazil grows to 9 to12 feet before flowering.

NexSteppe’s Palo Alto biomass sorghum hybrid reaches a height of 20 feet after just four months of growth and has been designed to provide a lot of plant matter for use as a cellulosic ethanol feedstock. Lowering moisture content of feedstock at harvest can dramatically reduce the harvest and transportation costs that make up almost 50% of delivered feedstock costs, according to Rath. The lower moisture also provides a higher effective energy density for combustion.

Palo Alto biomass hybrid sorghum is expected to be a popular crop in Brazil because of that country’s extensive use of biomass for power generation, Rath stated.

Last year, NexSteppe and DuPont Pioneer, the seed company based in Johnston, IA, agreed to collaborate on the development of new sweet sorghum and biomass sorghum hybrids.

Under the agreement, DuPont also made an equity investment in NexSteppe for an undisclosed amount.

Rath said the two companies are still collaborating on research, seed production, disease screening, and other areas where DuPont Pioneer has expertise and scale.

Working with DuPont means NexSteppe can develop its products much more rapidly, Rath said. All of the marketing and distribution of the new sorghum hybrids will be handled by NexSteppe, she added.

Second Quarter Issue