Two Mid-South farmers, along with a Memphis-based, non-profit company, BioDimensions, are working on a project to produce home-grown fuel for irrigation.

The project, which stems from Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s AgBio initiative, will use 100 percent ethanol made from sweet sorghum and a modified irrigation engine.

West Tennessee farmer Willie German is participating in the project through his involvement in AgBio’s 25FarmerNetwork, a pilot program started in 2008 to bring together west Tennessee farmers to grow new crops, participate in value-added processing and partner with companies producing biofuels and biobased products.

This season, German produced 160 acres of sweet sorghum, along with 20 acres of energy beets, on a farm near Whiteville.

After harvest in September, the sorghum was transported to a nearby roller mill, located in a former gin, where juice was extracted from the sorghum. The juice was fermented in tanks to create an end product called hydrous alcohol.

Meanwhile, in Edmondson, Ark., farmer Stewart Weaver furrow irrigated 90 acres of cotton in 2010 with a General Motors 8.1 liter industrial engine modified by AmeriFuels Renewable Energy to run on 100 percent ethanol.

For now, the engine runs on corn-based ethanol from Tennessee, but the idea is that one day soon, ethanol produced from a Mid-South sweet sorghum crop could run his irrigation engines, as well as others around the Mid-South.

All that’s needed to close the loop for home-grown fuel development is a local ethanol plant. That’s a big challenge, though.

Currently, Mid-South producers don’t capture much value from corn’s conversion to ethanol — other than a higher commodity price — because of a lack of interest in constructing new refineries in the South.

BioDimensions is hoping that sweet sorghum could stir some interest, though. According to research, sweet sorghum can produce more ethanol per acre than corn.

But the big advantage is that ethanol produced from sweet sorghum doesn’t require the cooking and enzymes that corn requires for conversion to fuel grade alcohol, and is therefore cheaper.

A business plan for Mid-South ethanol production should be completed by January 2011, according to Pete Nelson, with BioDimensions, and after that efforts will intensify to find investors.

“We’ve already been working with interested groups in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri and Kentucky. We’re looking at developing a similar footprint as the ginning industry in the Mid-South, with farmers partnering with us.”

Despite the dearth of ethanol plants in the Mid-South, Weaver was able to purchase 100 percent ethanol through his local Flash Market, a retail gasoline and convenience store, which acquires their ethanol from a plant in west Tennessee.