USDA Explores Alternative Energy at Airports

Joanna Schroeder

There have been a few companies that are exploring growing bioenergy crops on land owned by airports. Now the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the game. The division of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is looking at the potential for alternative energy production at airports in a published article, “Airports Offer Unrealized Potential for Alternative Energy Production.” The article, published in Environmental Management, states that airports may want to consider converting land to alternative fuels where it is economically and environmentally beneficial.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, an avid supporter of alternative energy said of the findings, “Some available grasslands at airports have the potential to spur the type of innovation we need to build American-made, homegrown biofuels and biobased products that will help break our dependence on foreign oil and move our nation toward a clean energy economy.”

Vilsack also said converting grasslands at airports to alternative energy, whether it be biofuel, wind or solar production, not only provides more environmentally sound energy sources for the county, but “may also increase revenue for airports and reduce the local abundance of potentially hazardous wildlife to aircraft.”

Many of us remember the plane that went down in the Hudson due to birds hitting the plane (i.e. getting into the engines), sparking a conversation about environmental responsibility versus air safety. Researchers at the National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC) note that many airport properties are already managed to reduce wildlife abundance and habitat quality as part of efforts to avoid wildlife collisions with aircraft.

Yet not all energy crops will prove to be equal on managing wildlife. NWA says that once biofuel crops are identified for airport use demonstrating low wildlife-strike risks compared to existing airport landcovers, converting grasslands could become a revenue generator.

Federally obligated airports have restrictions on how land may be used but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said it will work with airports interested in pursuing alternative energy.

advanced biofuels, bioenergy, Research