Our search for alternative energy sources — in this case, inexpensive, non-food crops that can serve as economical sources of biodiesel, has lead us to New York-based, Innovation Fuels and its pilot program to grow Stinkweed, aka field Pennycress, as a biofuel crop.
If you live in the northern U.S. you may have encountered this weed in your backyard garden. Stinkweed has traditionally been either an invasive enemy to farmers or a nickname you gave to one of your less-talented or odiferous cousins. The weed produces seeds that are a robust 36% oil, making it an attractive alternative to food crops such as soybeans as a source of biofuel.
Early tests show Pennycress may be superior to soybeans as a source of biodiesel. The weed seems to be easily grown and readily harvested. Grown as a winter annual, it can be planted in fall and harvested in May or June; cultivating the weed may provide an opportunity for a summer crop, like wheat or soy, to be grown on the same land, providing farmers an additional source of income and crop rotation.
Innovation Fuels is test plantings on farms in Easton, N.Y., Washington County and two other locations in central New York. Though early results have been positive, domesticating and testing the weed will take a few years but could ultimately result in a long-term positive for both the energy industry and U.S. farmers.