Chromatin, Constellation Energy Partner to Test Sorghum Biomass for Power Generation

In an effort to produce alternative fuels while reducing green house gas emissions, two companies have turned to sorghum as a viable solution to fuel electricity.

Chromatin Inc., a supplier of biomass feedstock for energy producers, and Constellation Energy have invested in sorghum as a feasible option for use as a fuel source to generate electricity for two power plants in California. Both power plants are jointly owned by Constellation Energy and North American Power Group.

As Chromatin prepared to harvest its first crop of hybrid sorghum for power generation, the crop in El Centro, Calif. was inspected by Daphne Preuss, Chromatin's CEO (left), and Steve Gross, Managing Director of West Region operations for Constellation Energy's Power Generation group. The harvested biomass will be test burned to determine the feasibility of using sorghum as a fuel source to generate electricity at two power plants in California that are owned jointly by Constellation Energy and North American Power Group (NAPG). If successful, this will be the first production-scale effort to generate power from an energy field crop in California.

Sorghum is an excellent biomass feedstock because it a non-food crop, has high energy content, uses less than half the water of corn and sugar cane, and can be grown on a variety of land types.

Chromatin is growing three fields, totaling 95 acres, of high energy, biomass sorghum that will be used for test burns to determine the amount of energy it will be able to generate for the power plants. Energy sorghum currently being grown is 10 to 15 feet tall and reaches maturity very quickly.

Chromatin has staggered the planting of these three fields to be able to produce a consistent, steady supply of biomass sorghum for the power plants.

Chromatin said its first field of 30 acres near El Centro in the Imperial Valley of California will be ready to harvest in September and October. The end product will be used to supply one of the power plants and the other two fields will be used later on.

“The impressive yield of our crop in El Centro is an important validation of the advantages of sorghum as a biomass source,” said Daphne Preuss, Chromatin CEO. “Today, our sorghum is expected to have an energy content that is more than 70 percent of coal – roughly equivalent to firewood. Our breeding and crop engineering program is generating new varieties of sorghum that are expected to have even higher energy content with lower levels of ash and other contaminants.”

Chromatin's first crop of hybrid sorghum for use in power generation grew more than 12 feet high in less than three months. Shown here is Daphne Preuss, Chromatin's CEO, and Dave Jessen, Chromatin's CTO.

Chromatin expects to deliver the first shipments of processed sorghum biomass to the Rio Bravo plants in a few weeks. Chromatin staggered the planting of its three fields, allowing it to deliver a steady supply of the processed biomass. The sorghum program is expected to achieve industrial scale because it will produce sorghum biomass in large volumes that have predictable deliveries.

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

The agreement between Constellation Energy and Chromatin, a National Sorghum Producers Industry Partner, is a significant milestone not only in power generation from renewable sources, but also for the sorghum industry.

Sorghum has long been touted as a resilient crop and viable feedstock and this highlight is just one step closer to its foreseen potential.