Thousand Oaks, California and
College Station, Texas
October 1, 2007
20-ft plants could produce
2,000 gallons per acre
Energy crop company Ceres, Inc.
and the Texas Agricultural
Experiment Station of The Texas A&M University System
announced today that they have entered into an exclusive,
multi-year joint research and commercialization agreement for
high biomass sorghum. These plants are not designed to produce
grain, but rather vast amounts of biomass - the raw material for
a new generation of biofuels made from stems, stalks and leaves.
Today, sorghum-to-ethanol production uses the grain, like corn,
but the plants themselves hold the greatest potential for
biofuel production, says Peter Mascia, Ceres Vice President of
Product Development. He notes that new technologies are making
it possible to utilize the carbohydrates that comprise plant
cell walls, called cellulose.
"As these technologies mature, farmers will transition from
growing as much grain per acre to producing as much biomass as
they can per acre, with as little energy and agronomic inputs as
possible. This means new crops and specialized hybrids like
these high-biomass sorghum types will be needed," Mascia said.
Plant scientist Dr. Bill Rooney of the A&M System's Texas
Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) says that sorghum is a
near-ideal crop for cellulosic biofuels. "Sorghum produces high
yields, is naturally drought tolerant and can thrive in places
that do not support corn and other food crops. Sorghum also fits
into established production systems and is harvested the year it
is planted, unlike perennial grasses, so it fits well in a crop
mix with perennial species and existing crops, like cotton,"
A pioneer in developing high-biomass sorghum, Rooney's first
breeding lines - the precursors to hybrids - can approach 20
feet under favorable conditions, he says, and could produce more
than 2,000 gallons of ethanol per acre - more than four times
the current starch-to-ethanol process.
To accelerate product development, Ceres and TAES will work
together to expand their marker-assisted breeding efforts.
Markers allow plant breeders to identify useful traits in seed
tissue or when plants are still seedlings. Large numbers of
markers provide a roadmap of the sorghum genome, cutting years
off development timelines for new products, and making it easier
to improve the makeup of the plants to facilitate processing.
"Markers and biotechnology will be crucial for developing
sorghum for cellulosic biofuels," says Rooney.
Mascia said Ceres has Texas-sized expectations for the
collaboration. "When we combine their resources with our
high-throughput trait development capabilities, we believe we
can double the rate of improvement to biomass yields, while
expanding the range of the crop for earlier planting in cooler
and drier conditions, especially on so-called marginal or
unproductive land," said Mascia. He expects that commercial
quantities of the initial hybrids will be available in time to
meet the requirements of the first cellulosic biorefineries
currently being planned.
As part of this agreement, Ceres will obtain exclusive
commercialization rights to TAES's high biomass sorghum hybrids
developed in the joint research program. The TAES program will
receive royalties as well as financial and technology support
from Ceres. Other aspects of the collaboration were not
"This agreement between Ceres and TAES is a great model of how
research institutions and the private sector can collaborate to
accelerate existing research programs to solve our country's
future energy needs, said Dr. Mark Hussey, director of TAES.
"Having our scientists work jointly on future bioenergy research
is a win-win situation for both TAES and Ceres, and will help
meet the growing demand for biofuels through the development of
Ceres, Inc. is a leading developer of high-yielding energy
crops that can be planted as feedstocks for cellulosic ethanol
production. Its development efforts cover switchgrass, sorghum,
miscanthus, energycane and woody crops. Founded as a plant
genomics company, Ceres holds one of the world's largest
proprietary collections of fully sequenced plant genes. The
privately held company also licenses its technology and traits
to other organizations.
The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station operates upon the
foundation that "Agriculture is Life." TAES is a science and
technology agency under The Texas A&M University System charged
with conducting basic and applied research in agriculture, the
life sciences and natural resources. The agency's mission is to
generate scientific knowledge that benefits both consumers and
the agriculture industry in Texas and beyond.
from the Texas A&M