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Ethanol fuels sorghum cultivation

Seen as a cheaper alternative to molasses

C H Unnikrishnan  |  Mumbai 

The sweet sorghum farmers in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka are upbeat as the crop is finding its way to the most potential industrial use.
The latest discovery of National Institute of Agricultural Research, Hyderabad, has proved that the stem of sweet sorghum is cheaper substitute to sugarcane molasses for producing ethanol - a bio oxidising agent to be used in petroleum products, and the extra neutral alcohol (ENA) for beverage sector.
At present, 15 extraction units including the Hyderabad-based Ammana Bio Pharma has set up processing and fermentation facilities to manufacture ethanol and ENA using sweet sorghum stems.
About 800 acre is currently used for the cultivation of sweet sorghum (jowar) in AP, Maharashtra and Karnataka. The ethanol manufacturers are encouraging its cultivation and they expect the requirement would go up to 6,000 acre due to rising demand for ethanol.
At present, ethanol and ENA are made from molasses extracted from sugarcane. However, since sugarcane is a seasonal produce, producing ethanol is costlier and the current output is inadequate to meet the demand of 3,05,000 kilo litre per annum.
In contrast, sweet sorghum (also called as camel crop) is an all-season crop with no extra cost for irrigation and fertilisation. The latest use has made the jowar grain a byproduct.
B G K Murthy, executive director, Ammana Bio Pharma, said: "We are going to double our ethanol manufacturing capacity from 30-60 kilo litre per day expecting that the availability of jowar stem from our extended cultivation would increase by over 300 per cent this year."
Ammana has 70 acre of land for jowar cultivation in Chittoor (AP). The company is planning to increase the cultivation area as well as encourage contract farming.
While sugarcane is currently procured at Rs 1200 per tonne, the market rate for sweet sorghum stems is only Rs 500 per tonne. This will make a huge difference in pricing of ethanol as well.
The price of molasses based ethanol is Rs 18.75 per litter at present, which is 30 per cent higher than the ethanol extracted from sorghum.

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First Published: Sat, August 27 2005. 00:00 IST