Stinkweed may be a surprising way to make greener jet fuel

A common weed called pennycress, more often referred to as 'stinkweed,' may be the solution for a greener jet fuel that has fewer demands on the environment. That's according to a new study from The Ohio State University, which reports that stinkweed is a low-demand crop that requires fewer pesticides and less fertilizer than alternative biofuel crops.

Pennycress, aka stinkweed, is a nuisance plant that is part of the cabbage family; it can be identified by its long stalks and tiny white flowers, as well as the unpleasant aroma that earned the plant its most popular nickname. The weed often pops up in various places during the hot summer months.

According to the new study, the weed may be a useful crop when it comes to more environmentally-friendly biofuels compared to alternatives. Stinkweed doesn't require the same level of soil tilling, putting less demand on farmers and less strain on the environment. The assessment involved looking at the impact of growing, transporting, and converting the weed into jet fuel.

There are other things to consider when it comes to a crop's potential as a green source for jet fuel, including the impact of burning the byproducts, the water needed to grow the plant, and how much energy is used to turn the plant into a different type of energy. Computer models were used to calculate this burden.

Compared to sunflower and canola, the study found that pennycress (stinkweed) required around half the energy to produce, putting it in the same range as another alternative called camelina. One of the big appeals with stinkweed is that it can be grown between the growing seasons for other major crops like corn and soybean, giving farmers more use of their land.

The study's senior author Ajay Shah explained:

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from air travel will mean not just incremental changes, but a fundamental change in how we have been producing fuel and where that fuel comes from. And what we found is that pennycress might make a very good alternative fuel, especially when you consider the environmental costs of producing it.