Growing the weed, pennycress – often called stinkweed – as a crop requires less fertilizer and fewer pesticides than other plants that can be used to make renewable jet fuel, according to the study. Pennycress also requires fewer farm operations, such as soil tilling, than other potential biofuel crops, reducing the associated environmental costs. Those costs include carbon dioxide emissions that cause the climate to change, as well as other emissions that pollute the air.
Environmental impacts could be further mitigated through farm management techniques that keep fertilizer on fields, rather than allowing it to run off into nearby watersheds, the study suggests. Such techniques can add to the financial cost of growing crops, but reduce their environmental footprints.
“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,” said Ajay Shah, senior author of the study and associate professor of food, agricultural and biological engineering at The Ohio State University in Wooster. “And what we found is that pennycress might make a very good alternative fuel, especially when you consider the environmental costs of producing it.”