Ceres introduces the first seed brand for bioenergy crops

Energy crop company Ceres Inc. based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. plans to market its agricultural seeds and traits under the trade name Blade Energy Crops in the United States. Company President and CEO Richard Hamilton unveiled the new brand at the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology in Chicago on April 29.

“Blade will be the first multi-crop seed brand supplying the new market for non-food, low-carbon biofuel feedstocks,” Hamilton said. These biomass-dense crops will be grown as raw materials for next-generation biofuels and biopower. One of the great appeals of energy crops is that they can thrive on agricultural lands that are ill-suited to food production.

“Supported by the latest technology in genomics-based breeding, trait development and compositional analysis, we are positioning Blade as a premium seed brand for biofuel and biopower feedstocks. For growers, that means high yields and greater yield stability. Downstream, it means easier processing, and ultimately, more energy per ton of biomass,” said Hamilton.

“From both an economic and environmental perspective, if we are going to turn plant matter into fuel, we should use feedstocks that give us the maximum fuel yield per acre.”

Seed supplies of the first products to be sold under the Blade name are currently being multiplied for Spring 2009 sowing. These include the nation’s first switchgrass cultivars developed specifically for biofuels, EG 1101 and EG 1102, as well as high-biomass types of sorghum.

“We expect the seed market for dedicated energy crops to grow in step with investments in bioenergy,” Hamilton said.

Anna Rath, Ceres vice president of commercial development, says that feedstock supply has become a top-of-mind question for many biofuel producers as the industry moves from pilot-scale to demonstration and commercial-scale projects.

“We are working with biorefineries to set up feedstock supplies, offering support in crop selection and agronomy as well as the opportunity for an assured supply of seed. Most biofuel producers will use a mix of crops to mitigate risk and to provide flexibility from year to year,” said Rath.

Rath noted that high yielding, dedicated energy crops are needed in many places since widely dispersed sources of biomass are cost-prohibitive to collect and transport. “This issue becomes more evident as scale is increased,” she said.

Due to their high yields, energy crops can produce more fuel per-acre than first-generation biofuel crops, and further mitigate greenhouse gas emissions since these new crops require fewer inputs and actually build new topsoil.

Ethanol made from switchgrass, for instance, produces 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum, and nearly five times more net energy than starch-based ethanol. Further improvements are likely as breeders introduce new seed varieties and innovations in refining technology are commercialized.

The company says the Blade name was inspired by its first crops, switchgrass, sorghum and canes, which are from a category of closely related grass species, known as C4 grasses. C4 grasses are the natural world's most efficient engines of photosynthesis, the process by which plants store solar energy in the form of carbohydrates. New technologies have made it possible to convert the most abundant form of these energy-rich molecules, called cellulose, into renewable fuels.

The Blade brand will appear on the company’s seed packaging and farm-oriented marketing materials. The plant breeding and biotech firm will maintain the well-recognized Ceres name as its corporate identity as well as in its collaborations with biorefineries and biofuel technology providers.

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