University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Agronomy and Plant Genetics (PhD Student)
Zenith Tandukar is on the cutting edge of research that holds great potential for soybean farmers and biodiesel producers alike. A PhD student at the University of Minnesota, the scientist’s work focuses on domesticating and breeding pennycress into a major oilseed crop – and a potential source of biodiesel and jet fuels.
Pennycress, in the mustard plant family, is named for its penny-shaped seedpods. The plant could someday play a significant role in complimenting corn and soybean production for farmers because it can grow during the winter on millions of acres of otherwise fallow cropland. It has huge potential as a protective cover crop, which reduces the soil’s vulnerability to environmental challenges like soil erosion and unwanted loss of nutrients, while also offering cash value for farmers as a source of plant protein, animal feed, and oil for biodiesel production.
“Through my research, we will identify ways of increasing oil production by gaining an understanding of the genetic basis of oil content and seed size in pennycress,” he says. “Increasing seed size and oil content can improve seed handling, crushing efficiency, and increase farmer and industry profits in the long-term. Clearly, the demand for plant-based biofuels is on the rise, and these demands can be fulfilled with current sources like soybeans and corn as feedstock, but also supplemented by new sources of feedstock like pennycress.”
Zenith earned an NGSB scholarship to attend the National Biodiesel Conference & Expo in 2020, an experience he says “…opened a whole new world of possibilities for a future career.”
He wanted to become an NGSB co-chair to bring representation in the genetics and breeding areas to the program.
“I am passionate about increasing the visibility of plant breeders and farmers working hard to provide the raw materials for the biodiesel industry and could effectively fill the role as a liaison for farmers, plant breeders, biotech leaders, and agriculture entrepreneurs attending the meetings in the coming years,” he says.
“The opportunity to occupy a leadership role within the biodiesel community holds enormous appeal to me as an early career scientist looking to build on my communication and leadership skills.”
The National Biodiesel Board is funded in part by the United Soybean Board and state soybean board checkoff programs.