A multi-institutional team led by the University of Illinois has genetically engineered sugarcane to produce more oil in its leaves and stems for biodiesel production. To the researchers surprise, the modified sugarcane plants also produce more sugar, which could be used for ethanol production.

The researchers say that the dual-purpose bioenergy sugarcane is expected to be more than five times as profitable per acre as soybeans and twice as profitable as corn – and sugarcane can be grown on marginal land that does not support good corn or soybean yields.

To date, engineered sugarcane has been produced with 13% oil, 8% is oil that can be converted into biodiesel. The researchers are hoping to be able to increase the yield of oil to 20%.

According to the project’s economic analyses, plants with just 5% oil would produce 450 litres of biodiesel per acre more than soybeans and 1,300 litres more ethanol per acre than corn.