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Pennycress, a common weed in Missouri, could be the next big thing in biofuel innovation

Jerry Steiner, CEO of Arvegenix, and Toni Kutchan, Vice President for Research at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center discussed new research in the field of bioenergy on St. Louis on the Air.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
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Jerry Steiner, CEO of Arvegenix, and Toni Kutchan, Vice President for Research at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center discussed new research in the field of bioenergy on St. Louis on the Air.

While the typical American may be considering how to use alternative fuel in the form of an electric car or investing in a “smart home” system, big industry is also looking for ways to reduce CO2 emissions through the use of alternative biofuels.

While the promise of ethanol-as-alternative-biofuel has waned due to its impact on food prices and lack of efficiency, groups of local researchers and businesses in St. Louis are looking for other biofuels that could meet the needs of big industries like aviation and aerospace.

Toni Kutchan, Vice President for Research at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, said that sorghum, Camelina sativa and pennycress are non-agricultural crops that researchers are harvesting for oil and biomass to use for fuel.

Pennycress, for example, is a “weed” that Missourians can find growing road-side. Jerry Steiner is the CEO of Arvegenix, a local company leading the development of Pennycress oil for use in biodiesel fuel. He said that plants like pennycress can fill a void left by the promise of ethanol.

Pennycress could be planted in fields between the harvest of soybeans and corn.

Thlaspi arvense, known as field pennycress.
Credit Wikimedia Commons
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Thlaspi arvense, known as field pennycress.

“We’re not taking away land that can be used for food production but we produce a cover crop that holds and protects the soil and at the same time a feedstock that can have a better than 80 percent greenhouse gas reduction in the forms of renewable diesel or renewable jet fuel,” Steiner said.

Research and development like this is catching the eyes of those at even bigger companies, such as Boeing. John Tracy, Boeing’s Chief Technology Officer, said that his company is seriously considering biofuel sources such as pennycress as they look at the next 20 years of jet fuel use.

“It’s probably surprising to a lot of your listeners that Boeing is interested in biofuels and bioenergy but it really is critical to our future,” Tracy said. “Over the next 20 years, we predict that the commercial aviation fleet is going to double in size. Today, two percent of man-made C02 comes from commercial jet transit. As it doubles, it could go up to 4%. … We take environmental stewardship very seriously.”

Listen to more of the discussion about alternative biofuels here:

Related Event

What: Danforth Plant Science Center Conversation on Next Generation Bioenergy
When: Thursday, May 12 from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Where: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, 975 North Warson Road, St. Louis, Missouri 63132
More information.
 

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.

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