Friday, August 5, 2011


Alpine pennycress (Thlaspi caerulescens) is a plant that is usually thought of as a wild flower or a weed. It’s a member of the brassica family that grows in western Colorado, Wyoming and up to Montana. It’s often found at high elevations in the Rockies as well as in the Alps and the Pyrenees, among other places.

In an earlier post about phyto or green remediation, I wrote about the possibility of using plants to draw heavy metals out of contaminated soil. Alpine pennycress is a particularly promising plant for remediation because it can tolerate high amounts of cadmium, lead, and zinc. It has also been shown to draw cadmium and zinc out of the soil and can be used to mitigate erosion on lead contaminated soil.

We’ve found alpine pennycress growing on the site of the Ute Ulay. It’s small and scrubby but it’s there. This seems to be a promising sign, both for the soil and for the possibility of phytoremediation.

And there’s more: alpine pennycress’s cousin field pennycress is being developed in the US as a source of biodiesel. Pennycress is not useful as livestock feed, though its leaves and seeds are a good source of oil, and it’s production would not compete with land for food production because it is used as a winter cover crop.

As far as we can tell, alpine pennycress is not being tested for bio-fuel possibilities, perhaps because it has fewer leaves and smaller seeds and doesn’t grow in the mid-west, where most of the field pennycress research is going on. But what if it was useful for bio-fuel on a small scale? We could use the plants for soil remediation and then process them as bio-diesel to run the Buckeye Engine.* An almost perfect loop!

*This plan is not scientifically verifiable.

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