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  • Unconventional Ag

NexSteppe Takes Biomass Sorghum to Commercial Scale in Brazil

California-based NexSteppe announces it has sold the production of its Palo Alto biomass sorghum from 10,000 hectares (25,000 acres) this past season, compared to the sale of production from 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) the season before. At an average yield of 20 – 25 tons per hectare, NexSteppe’s acreage can provide between 200,000 and 250,000 dry tons of biomass - this is the first time that dedicated biomass crops have been scaled-up to this level of production in such a short period of time.

Marking a 1,000% year on year growth for the company, this benchmark also marks the amount of biomass needed for one full year of operation of the first commercial scale cellulosic biomass facilities developed in the country by Chemtex, GranBio, POET/DSM, Raizen, Abengoa, and DuPont among others.

As a drop-in feedstock for Brazil’s existing biomass power industry, rapid scaling-up of production has been achievable in order to meet existing demand. This amount of biomass can create 120,000 – 300,000 MWh of power depending on conversion efficiencies.

In September 2014, the company, which has existing investments from Braemer Energy Ventures, CYM Ventures, DuPont Ventures and others, raised $22 million in its third round of fundraising, adding Total Energy Ventures, and ELFH Holding GmbH – an investment vehicle for the Berninghausen family in Germany to its investor roster. At the time, Ann Roth, CEO of NexSteppe told Biofuels Digest, “We’ll have multiple fold growth in Brazil vs last year, and people will be able draw a line from last year to this year and see a strong trend.”

The company notes that its production location in Brazil, which Ms. Roth terms ‘ground zero for energy crops’, and being able to demonstrate to end users in other industries, and other regions the viability of the economics of their business are two factors driving their adoption and gaining of credibility.

Echoing corn, momentum for sorghum is moving quickly compared to rice, which brings with it policy issues, or wheat, that presents hurdles regarding genetics. Sorghum’s lower need for water, producing a significant portion of potential yield even in conditions of severe drought, its proven ability to increase soybean output by 15% when planted in rotation, due in part to its ability to clear the soil of nematodes, and its high volume of biomass output, make sorghum an emerging, competitive, and attractive alternative.

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