Researchers Find Use for Midwestern Weed

Research suggests that pennycress and soybeans could coexist if farmers are able to utilize the weed's alternate uses.

Published on: Nov 1, 2006

The USDA Agricultural Research Service is researching the use of field pennycress, a Midwestern weed often found in soybean fields, as a biodiesel resource and biobased fumigant.

If pennycress turns out to be a viable source of oil for biodiesel, soybean farmers could benefit from treating it as a crop rather than a weed, with soybeans producing in the warmer part of the year and pennycress in the winter.

Terry Isbell, ARS research leader, says that pennycress is 36 to 40% oil by weight, and the type of fatty acids derived from its oil resemble those of other biodiesel resources. Isbell and other researchers at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., will try to convert the oil from a 10-acre pennycress crop into a working biodiesel test mix in order to learn more.

Isbell estimates that 1,000 pounds of seed can yield 50 gallons of biodiesel, a good number considering pennycress can produce 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of seed per acre.

Steve Vaughn, an NCAUR researcher, says the byproduct of pennycress seeds crushed in biodiesel production may be suitable as an organic fertilizer and soil fumigant for low-acreage, high value crops.