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Pennycress 'weed' crop with high potential

Kristine Menn, greenhouse co-ordinator for Arvegenix, pollenates the female part of a field pennycress flower on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015, at the company's laboratory in the Danforth Plant Science Center. Pennycress is a winter-growing weed with seeds that produce a high-quality oil for potential use in industrial and renewable fuels. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

CoverCress' efforts to develop pennycress as a cash crop are getting a $10 million boost from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA is directing the $10 million to Win Phippen, an agriculture professor at Western Illinois University in Macomb. He's been growing pennycress, which most farmers would consider a weed, for 10 years and investigating its use as a source of biofuel.

The grant will allow Phippen, along with professors from four other universities, to further refine the crop and work toward a goal of producing 2 billion gallons of biofuel annually.

CoverCress, a Creve Coeur firm that wants to commercialize pennycress, is working with the professors on plant breeding and oilseed production.

Pennycress can be planted as a winter cover crop on land that's also used to produce traditional crops such as corn and soybeans. A Western Illinois University news release says trial planting will begin this month in Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin, with a harvest expected in May.

Phippen hopes to begin selling pennycress commercially in 2021, the news release says.

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