PEORIA, IL --- A group of Agricultural Research Service scientists are studying whether a local winter weed -- pennycress -- can be used to produce biodiesel.

Historically, the weed has been a source of frustration for farmers. But fuel researchers are hoping it can be put to positive use, for a change.

Earlier research by ARS' New Crops and Processing Technology Research Unit has provided evidence that a single acre of field pennycress can yield 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of seed. That seed might have the potential to produce 75 to 100 gallons of biodiesel.

This past summer, Peoria-based Biofuels Manufacturers of Illinois entered into a two-year agreement with ARS to conduct lab and field trials aimed at determining pennycress's production characteristics as both a cultivated crop and biodiesel feedstock. Under the agreement, the researchers will manage a winter crop of about 10 acres of field pennycress, which will be harvested in late spring. 

Oil will be extracted from the seeds, and a chemical process called transesterification will be used to produce biodiesel and glycerin. Once the biodiesel is refined, it can be tested for performance using industry standards.