Biomass Crops to Be Grown on Airport Property

Joanna Schroeder

Michigan State University (MSU) is partnering with Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA) who operates the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Willow Run Airport to grow, harvest and process biomass crops on airport owned land. This is the first of its kind partnership in the Midwest and demonstrates WCAA’s commitment to advancing aviation biofuels development.

“How does aviation protect itself in the future against the depletion of fossil fuels and the uncertainty of foreign sources of energy?” asked WCAA Interim CEO Genelle M. Allen. “Part of the answer may be to grow it.”

The AgriEnergy Technology Demonstration project is funded by a $476,000 grant from the Michigan Energy Office, part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Combined, the two airports have nearly 1,700 acres of property that could be suitable for growing biomass crops. Already, WCAA has leased three acres of land to MSU Extension where several biomass crops have already been planted, including canola and oriental mustard seed, and this fall will be harvested, refined and tested.

Allen added, “WCAA has been interested in exploring the potential of developing airport-owned property around both airports for bioenergy production for some time. If successful, this project could attract businesses to the vicinity of the airports that would produce alternative fuels for use in aircraft and other vehicles. This project has possibilities for not only bringing economic development to Southeast Michigan, but also protecting land around our airports from further encroachment.”

In addition to airport property, the grant also includes bioenergy sites on other types of land not traditionally used for growing biofuel crops such as vacant urban lots and highway right-of-ways. According to MSU Extension Project Manager Dennis Pennington, he expects the project will also determine the economic impact of growing, refining, storing, and transporting the biomass as a drop in fuel alternative, aka biojet fuel.

The project is expected to be completed by February 2012.

Biodiesel, biojet fuel, biomass