An Illinois start-up, Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois (BMI), is targeting the use of field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), also known as stinkweed, as a biodiesel crop.
Field pennycress, a member of the mustard family, is an invasive weed that is now pervasive throughout North America. The plant contains sufficient quantities of glucosinolates to be toxic, according to the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility. During dry periods, cattle in western Canada have ingested hay containing high quantities of stinkweed, with resulting poisoning, death and abortion. Field pennycress seed, however, is 36-40% wt oil—about twice that of soybeans.
A 2008 study by Terry Isbell at the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (ARS) examined wild pennycress seed and found 36% oil with the major fatty acid as erucic at 38.1%, and an iodine value of 115. Isbell concluded that the physical properties of the methyl esters indicated that continued development of the oil as a biodiesel is warranted. The USDA ARS currently has further studies on pennycress ongoing through 2010.
BMI saw the first commercial harvest of pennycress recently in central Illinois. BMI anticipates that it could break ground as soon as August on a 45 million gallon per year biodiesel plant if approved for Illinois loan guarantees.