Oregon farmers begin first biomass sorghum harvest

By | October 21, 2010

A grower-owned energy cooperative in Ontario, Ore., has begun harvesting its first crop of high-biomass sorghum, a purpose-grown energy crop that will be used for electricity production.

Currently operating in Ontario and Hermiston, Ore., Agri Energy Producers Association will harvest about 1,500 acres of a hybrid sorghum developed by energy grass seed company Ceres Inc., with which the co-op is working closely. “We have a lot more members who weren’t required to grow this year because we were late getting things going, but next year we’ll have all of our members planting their entire allotment,” said Lance Wells, AEPA co-founder. “Our first full year of production will be 2011, and we will need additional co-op members and acreage to meet the demand for these energy crops.”

Wells couldn’t say exactly how many acres would be planted next year, but he said it could be as many as 30,000, depending on how quickly the co-op’s plan is implemented.

That plan consists of confirming that the closed-loop growing/harvesting/electricity production process can be effectively duplicated at multiple locations. “We grow and harvest the sorghum plant, and then we separate the juice from the fiber with presses. The juice goes into a 5 megawatt (MW) biogas power plant and the fiber goes into a 10 MW biomass power plant both will be owned by the cooperative,” Wells said.

AEPA could also produce sorghum pellets, if there is enough interest.

The first power plant is currently in the planning and financing stages, according to Wells, adding that the co-op will likely participate in the Biomass Crop Assistance Program now that it is being restarted.

“What separates us from everyone else is that we’re the only ones that we know of who are using the whole crop for energy production,” Wells said. “We start with a dedicated energy crop, pull biomass from the fiber and biogas from the juice. The residues will be processed into a soil amendment that enriches local soils. The entire process is carbon negative and produces a strong net energy gain.”

For more information on AEPA, Ceres and the biomass sorghum-to-electricity project, watch for the December issue of Biomass Power & Thermal or visit Agri Energy’s website at www.AgriEnergyProducers.com.