Pennycress farm trials underway

By Susanne Retka Schill | October 14, 2008
New York and Illinois farmers are getting a closer look at pennycress this winter as cooperators in on-farm trials explore the plant's biodiesel feedstock potential.

Researchers at the USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., first identified the common weed, also known as stinkweed and frenchweed, as a potential oilseed crop with good biodiesel properties. Their initial work indicated that field pennycress can yield 2,000 pounds per acre, contains approximately 36 percent oil and doesn't present the shattering problem that often occurs with wild plants tapped for domestication. The oilseed, a winter annual, would be planted in the fall and harvested the following spring, potentially creating a winter cash crop that doesn't interfere with existing corn and soybean rotations.

In Illinois, Sudhir Seth, president and chief executive officer of Biofuels Manufacturing Illinois Inc., said the farmer response to a series of meetings cosponsored by his company, NCAUR and Western Illinois University to recruit growers was positive. "We hope to have 150 acres planted this fall in two- to five-acre plots," he said. Biofuels Manufacturing Illinois plans to build a 45 MMgy biodiesel production facility in Mapleton, Ill., using pennycress as a feedstock.

In New York, Innovation Fuels Inc. is cooperating with Morrisville State College to conduct on-farm trials seeding 10 acres of pennycress in five locations in upstate New York. "We're really pleased with the oil," said John Fox, president of Innovation Fuels. "We've made some biodiesel from the pennycress and are making evaluations now." The initial analysis shows good cold-flow properties, he said, which will make it an ideal blend with the company's current biodiesel production from waste oil, tallow and rendered fats. A grant application has been submitted, he added, but the partnership decided to move ahead with the project in order to get the plots planted this fall. Innovation Fuels operates a 40 MMgy biodiesel plant in New York Harbor and is developing two plants in upstate New York. The company also recently acquired a permitted site in Milwaukee from North American Biodiesel LLC. Engineering work is underway for a planned 50 MMgy biodiesel plant in the Milwaukee port, Fox said.
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