20) ICRISAT sorghum for ethanol now a sweet reality

The project to convert the juice from the sweet sorghum stalk into bio-ethanol, which was initiated by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Rusni Distillery, was inaugurated recently. ICRISAT Director General William Dar commissioned the 40,000-liter per day fuel ethanol and extra-neutral alcohol re-distillation plant at Mohammed Shahpur village in Medak district, Andhra Pradesh, India.

With the commissioning of the distillery costing US$ 7 million, ICRISAT will become among the first institutes in the world that has facilitated a project that links a distillery producing ethanol from sweet sorghum to the poor and the marginal farmers of the semi-arid tropics.

With the fuel prices skyrocketing, there is increasing demand for bio-fuels like ethanol, an alternative fuel for blending with petroleum products in many countries. Sweet sorghum being a water-efficient crop grown in the semi-arid tropics, can serve as an excellent source for ethanol while still meeting the food, feed and fodder needs of the small farmers.

According to Dr Dar, the project succeeds in using ICRISAT's ability in breeding varieties of sorghum that have a higher content of sugar in their stalk. Through the Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), the technology commercialization arm of ICRISAT, the institute built a successful partnership with Rusni Distillery, a private-sector partner, to produce ethanol from sweet sorghum.

“By linking the distillery with the sorghum farmers we have helped empower small farmers to realize an additional end use and thereby increase their income and improve livelihood security,” Dr Dar said.

Dr Dar added that the news of ICRISAT's breakthrough on producing ethanol from sweet sorghum is creating ripples internationally being a pioneering venture. “Soon this ethanol from sweet sorghum project will benefit not only the 3,000 farmers of Medak district who grow the crop, but also generate employment for many more farm families.

Mr A R Palaniswamy, Managing Director of Rusni Distilleries thanked ICRISAT for developing sweet sorghum varieties with higher juice content and also for building bridges with the private sector through the ABI at ICRISAT. The project has become a commercial reality because of this end-to-end planning and implementation.

Mr Palaniswamy holds the patent for the technology for producing ethanol from sweet sorghum stalk. This technology is being used for the Rusni plant.

The success of the ICRISAT-facilitated project in India has encouraged delegations from other countries to study and evaluate it for replication. Two Filipino delegations were recently at ICRISAT to understand and study the successful model in India so as to replicate it in the Philippines.

A team led by Hon Benedicto V Yujuico, Special Envoy of the President of the Philippines for Trade Relations visited ICRISAT to understand the model. An impressed Hon Yujuico said that he would recommend the replication of the model in the Philippines.

Another Filipino delegation, jointly led by Mr Nicomedes P Eleazer, Director, Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), and Dr Roberto F Rañola, Vice-Chancellor for Administration of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) was at ICRISAT to study in depth the Indian model and the feasibility of developing it for replication in the Philippines.

The delegation has been tasked by the Government of Philippines to develop a road map and a feasibility plan for promoting ethanol as a biofuel in the Philippines.

A project has also been initated in Kampala, Uganda, by a private sector company, J N Agritech International Ltd. The partnership with the Ugandan company was built by Rusni Distillery with support of ABI at ICRISAT.

For further information, contact Dr Belum V Subba Reddy at b(dot)reddy(at)cgiar(dot)org, or Dr Kiran Sharma at k(dot)Sharma(at)cgiar(dot)org.

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