Plant Scientists Aim to Turn Sorghum into Jet Fuel

Sorghum
Nebraska is partnering with the University of Illinois in the $104-million Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation. Biochemistry professor Edgar Cahoon and agronomy and horticulture professor Tom Clemente will lead Nebraska’s part of the project; their goal is to genetically enhance certain sorghum species so that the stems and leaves contain more oil and less starch. (Photo by Craig Chandler)

Plant Scientists Aim to Turn Sorghum into Jet Fuel July 19, 2017

As members of a new federally funded bioenergy research center, two Nebraska plant scientists plan to spend the next five years working to expand the oil-producing capability of the sorghum plant.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is one of 15 institutions partnering with the University of Illinois in the $104-million Center for Advanced Bioenergy and Bioproducts Innovation. Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced the new Department of Energy-funded research center July 17.

Biochemistry professor Edgar Cahoon and agronomy and horticulture professor Tom Clemente, members of the university's Center for Plant Science Innovation, will lead Nebraska’s part of the project. They expect to receive slightly more than $4 million for their research during the next five years. Their goal is to genetically enhance certain sorghum species so that the stems and leaves contain more oil and less starch. If they can do that, sorghum could rival soybeans in terms of oil production per acre.

“Vegetable oil is more energy-dense than carbohydrates like starch,” Cahoon explained.

One advantage of oil-producing sorghum, Clemente said, is that sorghum is a sturdy, drought-tolerant crop that can be grown on more marginal lands than other farm crops.

“The idea is that you wouldn’t be displacing land now used to grow corn, soybeans and cotton,” Clemente said. “You could grow sorghum on marginal lands and have all of its oil used for industrial purposes.”

Edgar Cahoon
Edgar Cahoon
Tom Clemente
Tom Clemente

Continue reading about this research to advance sorghum properties on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln News site.