According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, airports could become a significant source of biomass for biofuels. The key takeaway from the report, Airports Offer Unrealized Potential for Alternative Energy Production, is that the typical airport environment is already managed to include wide swaths of grasslands, and to preclude wildlife (think Canada geese) that compromises flight safety.
Why grow biofuel crops at airports?
One main obstacle to introducing biofuels in the mass market is the risk that a significant increase in acreage for biofuel crops will destroy habitats and impinge on land needed for food production. A sustainable national biofuel policy will have to exploit marginal lands and environments that are already built or managed, and airports fit the bill. A similar approach to sustainable wind farm siting has been studied by The Nature Conservancy, which determined that wind energy production can be increased significantly in the U.S. without necessarily threatening important wildlife habitats, simply by focusing construction on pre-developed locations.
Biofuels and rural communities
The USDA has a rural economic development mission that dovetails with biofuel production in general, and airport biofuel potential in particular. As explained by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack:
“Converting airport grasslands to biofuel, solar or wind production not only provides more environmentally-sound alternative energy sources for our country, but may also increase revenue for airports and reduce the local abundance of potentially hazardous wildlife to aircraft. Such efforts may be particularly beneficial for rural economic development, as many rural airport properties contain expansive grasslands that potentially could be converted to biofuel crops or other renewable energy sources.”
Airports as alternative energy power stations
In addition to biofuel crop potential, airports and U.S. Air Force bases are also emerging as important sites for solar installations and for geothermal energy, too. Recent Air Force and Army funding for solar research will help step up those…efforts in the future. Meanwhile, the USDA is continuing its research on biofuel crop production in combination with wildlife management at airports in different regions of the U.S.
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