Partnership tests feasibility of sorghum fuel in California

By Matt Soberg | October 06, 2011

Chromatin Inc., a biomass supplier with operations in California, and Constellation Energy, a power company headquartered in Maryland, have agreed to study the feasibility of burning sorghum as an alternative fuel at two power plants in California. The plants are jointly owned by Constellation and North American Power Group. “If successful, this will be the first production-scale effort to generate power from an energy field crop in California,” according to Chromatin. 

“This marks an important milestone toward our goal of creating a vertically integrated biomass supply chain that can power generators like Constellation to rely more on renewable fuel sources that recycle greenhouse gases,” said Chromatin CEO Daphne Preuss. 

Constellation understands the potential for becoming sustainable with sorghum as an energy crop. “We were attracted to sorghum biomass because it offers potentially high energy content, and can be handled in our plants with only minor modifications to our equipment,” said Steve Gross, managing director of West Region operations for Constellation Energy’s Power Generation Group. 

Chromatin is growing three fields of sorghum, which has high energy content and can be grown on marginal lands. Chromatin’s first sorghum crop grew more than 12 feet high in less than three months. The company plans to harvest the crop in September and October, with other fields under production for future biomass supply. The harvested sorghum will be test-burned to determine whether the fuel source will feasibly generate electricity.

The sorghum-powered plants, referred to as the Rio Bravo plants, are located in Bakersfield and Fresno.  Rio Bravo Poso, in Bakersfield, currently uses coal and petroleum coke, while Rio Bravo Fresno burns ag residue and construction and demolition debris. 

“California requires load-serving entities generate 33 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020,” Gross said. “If we can rely more on sustainable biomass to fuel our plants and capture greenhouse gases, we would be taking important steps toward generating the clean power that is the cornerstone of California energy policy.”

“The success of this production-scale test of energy sorghum shows that closed-loop biomass for power generation can provide an additional and very exciting market opportunity for California’s farmers and can help create new jobs for our community,” said Timothy E. Kelley, president and CEO of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.