EPA approves sorghum oil for biodiesel

By Jessica Domel

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is opening the doors to a new market for American grain sorghum growers. This week, EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler approved sorghum oil as an eligible feedstock under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).

“What this means is ethanol plants that extract oil from grain sorghum can now sell that oil to biodiesel producers, and they can use it to produce biodiesel and satisfy the requirements of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” John Duff, strategic business director for National Sorghum Producers (NSP), said in an interview with the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network. “It is a good day for sorghum farmers, their ethanol plant customers and ultimately those biodiesel producers that will use sorghum oil.”

The approval means an additional 21 million gallons of ethanol-equivalent fuel will be introduced into the supply chain immediately.

“First, (it means) energy security and independence and relief at the pump for consumers. For farmers, it means more outlets. There’s an additional few cents that ethanol producers can pay per bushel now for sorghum,” Duff said.

Ethanol producers that have not used grain sorghum in the past because there wasn’t a pathway to its use as biofuel may consider its use again now that they can market it as RFS compliant.

“It opens up new markets, and it makes sorghum go away at a time when sorghum markets are absolutely at a premium,” Duff said.

The pathway to use sorghum oil in RFS will touch more than farmers and ethanol producers.

“This is an avenue for creating jobs in rural America we so desperately need,” Tom Willis, NSP board director, said. “It helps provide energy security from a renewable water-conserving source.”

The creation of new markets for U.S.-grown grain sorghum comes at a good time for farmers.

China implemented a 25 percent tariff on U.S. grain sorghum in early July.

“I think the key to emphasize on all of this is markets are very important. The ongoing trade negotiations and the uncertainty that’s causing has certainly had an impact on trade. The playing field, long-term, in trade absolutely must be leveled, but farmers can’t go broke in the process,” Duff said. “We have to balance the need for fairer trade with the need for a vital American ag industry that is built around family farmers.”

NSP has been working toward a biofuel pathway for sorghum oil in the RFS for years.

“The pathway actually was submitted formally on July 28, 2016. We are almost two years to the day from when the pathway was formally submitted. We started doing technical work for it about four years ago. The idea has been out there for about six,” Duff said. “It was a good day, and it was a long time coming. It was really a great opportunity to interact with some key decision makers in the administration and from Capitol Hill to see an initiative that took so many different angles and so many folks being involved.”

Moving forward, NSP will ensure ethanol facilities that want to use sorghum are able to market the oil and there’s no problem moving the oil into new markets.

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