Biotech Updates

From Weed to Wonder Fuel

November 28, 2008

The lowly pennycress (Thlaspi arvense) might be the answer to America's quest for ‘homegrown’ alternatives to petroleum, according to scientists at the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Led by Terry Isbell, the researchers are investigating the weed's potential to yield oil-rich seeds for use in making biodiesel and other products, including an organic fertilizer and natural fumigant. Pennycress may be a new crop in development, but it’s an old weed. Known also as stinkweed or frenchweed, it grows widely across the MidWest. Historically, pennycress has been a bane to farmers.

Results of early studies indicated that a single acre of pennycress can yield 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of seed, potentially translating to 75 to 100 gallons of biodiesel. Processing of the oil to produce biodiesel also yields glycerin, a byproduct that can be used in manufacturing soaps and lotions. Peoria-based Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois, LLC has entered into a two-year research agreement with ARS to conduct laboratory and field trials aimed at evaluating pennycress's production characteristics as both a cultivated crop and biodiesel feedstock.

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