DuPont, Calif.-based NexSteppe collaborate on sorghum hybrids

By Erin Voegele | January 05, 2012

DuPont and California-based feedstock development company NexSteppe have entered into a collaboration to develop new sweet sorghum and high-biomass sorghum hybrids for use in the biofuels, biopower and biobased products industries. Under the agreement, DuPont made an equity investment in NexSteppe. Through its Pioneer Hi-Bred business, DuPont will also provide knowledge, resources and advanced technologies to help NexSteppe accelerate the breeding and commercialization of new hybrids of these crops in the U.S. and Brazil.

“We’re using science-based innovation and collaboration to develop scalable, sustainable feedstock options for the biobased industries,” said John Bedbrook, vice president for DuPont Agricultural Biotechnology. “Collaborations like this one with NexSteppe will provide new opportunities for growers to address the rising demand for secure, environmentally sustainable and affordable alternatives to fossil fuels.”

The news of DuPont’s investment in NexSteppe comes on the heels of a December announcement that NexSteppe raised $16 million in its second round of funding. At that time NexSteppe CEO Anna Rath explained to Biorefining Magazine that she created the company to focus specifically on the development of dedicated energy crops. The company currently is working on two crop platforms; sugar and cellulosic biomass. Sweet sorghum can be used as a substitute for sugarcane in Brazil’s ethanol plants, she said. It can also be used as a source of sugar for fermentation-based biorefineries in the U.S. Regarding its cellulosic platform, NexSteppe is developing high-biomass sorghum and switchgrass varieties. Information released by DuPont noted that it operates and develops industrial process that use sugar as a feedstock through its Industrial Biosciences business.

“Sorghum is a crop with significant genetic diversity and great potential that has received relatively little research attention and funding,” said Rath. “Combining DuPont’s world-class research and development capabilities with our industry knowledge, experienced team and singular focus, we will be able to rapidly improve the crop to produce feedstocks tailored to the needs of the biofuels, biopower and biobased products industries.”