Successful pennycress trials fuel biodiesel plans

By Susanne Retka Schill | June 09, 2009
Posted June 16, 2009

Preliminary results from pennycress field trials in Illinois are showing promising yields and adding to the knowledge base for the weed being developed as a biodiesel feedstock. Peter Johnsen, chief technology officer for Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois LLC, said the trials conducted around Illinois indicate the new crop will likely yield 2,000 pounds per acre consistently. The trials were designed to compare planting dates, plant density, planting depth and other agronomic characteristics. "We learned a lot," Johnsen said. One of the most important is that planting in September and October in Illinois will allow early enough harvests for double cropping a soybean crop, while early November seeding delays germination until spring which delays the spring harvest as well.

BMI and research partners held a press event June 12 featuring the first harvest of pennycress at the site in Mapleton, Ill., where BMI plans to build a 60 MMgy biodiesel plant. Project development is now waiting on state loan guarantees, Johnsen said, to back the financing agreements with lenders. The site, zoning, permits, contractor and process provider are in place and ready to go once the final financing is in place. The company hopes to break ground later this year.

BMI will build a multi-feedstock facility initially using soy oil and animal fats to produce biodiesel as the acreage for its primary target feedstock increases. Johnsen added BMI has a signed a feedstock development agreement with the AgGuild of Illinois, a farmer group with 50 farmers representing 130,000 acres.

Pennycress is a common weed also known as stinkweed or frenchweed that is not considered a problem weed for corn and soybean crops because it flowers and sets seed early enough in the spring to not compete with crops. It was identified as a potential biodiesel feedstock due to its 36 percent oil content in the seeds, double that of soybeans.
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