The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) awarded a $13 million grant to a nationwide project led by Illinois State University. Professor of Genetics John Sedbrook will head up the project aimed to genetically strengthen a plant for use in sustainable energy efforts.
“We’re excited to be at the forefront of this collaboration involving top scientists from universities and labs around the country and the world,” said Sedbrook, whose lab at Illinois State works to bring out positive genetic traits in plants for biofuel and bioenergy production while protecting the environment.
Sedbrook has been working for decades in the field and devoted years to domestication and improvement of the seed oil and protein from Thlaspi arvense, commonly known as the weed pennycress and a relative of canola. Some domesticated pennycress varieties can yield more than 1,500 pounds per acre of seeds, producing the potential for 65 gallons of oil per acre that can be converted into biodiesel and biojet fuel.
The grant from the DOE will allow researchers to improve the resilience of pennycress as a crop. “Pennycress has unique attributes, such as surviving extreme cold, which make it a good fit for a Midwestern winter crop,” said Sedbrook, adding that the plant does not fare as well in drought and heat. “Pennycress has adapted to some challenging environments. We want to help prepare the crop for challenges in the face of climate change.”
“I am excited to see Illinois State University yet again receive major federal support to study and develop pennycress as a viable cover crop that can be used for animal feed, biodiesel, and jet fuel,” said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis. “I look forward to seeing the results of their work as they strive to create more economic opportunity for Illinois farmers that also benefits the environment.”
“Pennycress offers an exciting opportunity for Illinois farmers, and demonstrates the exciting advances in agricultural technology,” said State Sen. Bill Brady. “This will provide opportunities for our agriculture industry to grow and advance, which will have a positive impact throughout Illinois.”
“This grant is a great opportunity for ISU to continue its leadership as an important center of academic research,” said State Sen. Jason Barickman. “This project could also offer a much-needed new option for a cash-crop for Illinois growers.”
“This joint venture on several fronts show how important agricultural research and biological advancement is for the agriculture industry,” said State Rep. Dan Brady. “Illinois State University is a premier choice to receive funding to advance this research. We are truly fortunate to have the funding and the research for the future.”
Other institutions taking part in the project include the Carnegie Institution for Science, the University of Minnesota, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the DOE Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the DOE Pacific Northwest National Laboratory EMSL, Western Illinois University, Washington State University, and The Ohio State University.
Of the $13 million, $1.8 million of DOE funding is for direct use at ISU. This latest DOE grant comes on the heels of a multi-million dollar grant to commercialize pennycress from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2019.