On the grow: pennycress harvest demonstrates feedstock diversity

By NBB | July 17, 2012

Pennycress has been on the fast track to becoming a sustainable biodiesel feedstock since 2008, and this year, an Illinois team of researchers and entrepreneurs believes it has found the best way for farmers to grow the crop. It could mean another viable, sustainable source of oil for our nation’s biodiesel supply while adding income to farm operations.   

“I saw an opportunity to produce an energy crop here-and-now on underutilized assets with no negative impact to the environment or the farm,” said Peter Johnsen, who has been instrumental in commercialization of the crop. Johnsen is a retired director of the USDA’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill. 

A member of the mustard family, pennycress grows wild in the Midwest, and its seed packets contain oilseeds that yield 36 percent oil when crushed. Johnsen and his partners are contracting with other farmers to grow and harvest the plants as a winter crop. They plan on crushing the seeds and selling the oil to biodiesel producers.

“A great benefit is that we can grow pennycress during the winter on existing farms that would otherwise just sit dormant,” he said. “It has no impact on existing crops, conservation grounds or critical wildlife habitat.” 

Alan Weber, who runs the National Biodiesel Board’s feedstock development program, said, “The diversity of fats and oils from which biodiesel can be made has always been one of its greatest strengths, and pennycress is a perfect example of how our industry is innovative and sustainable.”
NBB’s feedstock program supports industry programs for expanding the supply of oils and fats for biodiesel production. This includes serving as an advocate at industry meetings and providing strategic vision for future research investments in Washington, D.C.

To that end, Weber has been appointed by the USDA and U.S. DOE to serve as a member of the Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee. The prestigious committee helps USDA and DOE in meeting important goals of a healthier rural economy and improved national energy security.

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