Identifying Forage Sorghum Ideotypes for Advanced Biorefineries
Forage sorghum is a promising feedstock for the production of biofuels and bioproducts because it is drought tolerant, high-yielding, and familiar to farmers across the world. However, sorghum spans a diverse range of phenotypes, and it is unclear which are most desirable as bioenergy feedstocks. This paper explores four forage sorghum types, including brown-midrib (bmr), non-bmr, photoperiod sensitive (PS), and photoperiod insensitive (non-PS), from the perspective of their impact on minimum bioethanol selling price (MESP) at an ionic liquid pretreatment-based biorefinery. Among these types, there are tradeoffs between biomass yield, lignin content, and starch and sugar contents. High biomass-yielding PS varieties have previously been considered preferable for bioenergy production, but, if most starch and sugars from the panicle are retained during storage, use of non-PS sorghum may result in lower-cost biofuels (MESP of $1.26/L-gasoline equivalent). If advances in lignin utilization increase its value such that it can be dried and sold for $0.50/kg, the MESP for each scenario is lowered and non-bmr varieties become the most attractive option (MESP of $1.08/L-gasoline equivalent). While bmr varieties have lower lignin content, their comparatively lower biomass yield results in higher transportation costs that negate its fuel-yield advantage.