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Thursday, September 17, 2009

SU Students and Faculty Conduct Sorghum Research

Maryland Delegates Addie Eckardt, Jim Mathias and Rudy Cane explore sweet sorghum field trials with Dr. Samuel Geleta of Salisbury Univerisity’s Biological Sciences Department and Dr. Karen Olmstead, dean of the Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology (above).  SU student researchers include senior Hoa Nguyen, and juniors Kayla Pennerman and Brian Knepper (below).    

SALISBURY, MD---Could sorghum become a significant alternative fuel source? That’s what faculty from Salisbury University’s Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology, with Solar Fruits Bio Fuels, LLC, are hoping to find out during a series of trials this fall.

Since May, eight sweet sorghum varieties have been growing on a Wicomico County farm for evaluation as potential stock for ethanol production on Delmarva. Drs. Samuel Geleta and Christopher Briand of SU’s Biological Sciences Department are spearheading the project. SU seniors Hoa Nguyen of Dorchester County, Kristen King of Anne Arundel County and Steven Weschler of Montgomery County; along with juniors Kayla Pennerman and Brian Knepper of Salisbury, are assisting with the research.

According to Geleta, about half of the varieties have already been harvested, with the rest to be finished by mid-October.  Some of the plants grew to a height of 12 feet.  He said sweet sorghum is attractive because it is drought resistant, fast-growing and has low nutrient and fertilization requirements. The process of producing ethanol from sweet sorghum also costs less and is more energy efficient than the process for corn.

“Sweet sorghum can be grown on marginal land with less fertilizer and water as compared to corn,” Geleta said.  “Since sweet sorghum juice contains simple sugar, producing ethanol from it simply requires extracting the juice and fermenting.  With corn, you have to hydrolyze the starch to simple sugar before fermenting.”

Dr. Jeffrey Benner, who owns the farm where the field trials are taking place, said he sees ethanol, which can be produced from sorghum, as a possible solution to the energy crisis the U.S. is facing.

Funded by the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board, the study was launched by the Delmarva Sweet Sorghum for Ethanol Group.  Other researchers involved are Ron Mulford and Dr. Robert Kratochvil from the University of Maryland, College Park.  Additional support comes from Venture Manor Farms/Oakley’s Farm Market and the University of Maryland.

For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at   

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