USDA explores alternative energy production at airports
A recent study conducted by researchers from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service highlights the potential for alternative energy production at airports. The study findings were published in an article titled "Airports Offer Unrealized Potential for Alternative Energy Production" in Environmental Management and indicates that airports may want to consider converting to alternative fuels where it is both economically and environmentally beneficial.
"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 to break our dependence on foreign oil and move our nation toward a clean energy economy," said 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."
While federally obligated airports have restrictions on how land may be used, the Federal Aviation Administration is committed to working with airports interested in pursuing the potential for changes in land use to support alternative energy production.
Researchers at the USDA-APHIS National Wildlife Research Center 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. Once biofuel crops are identified for airport use that have low wildlife-strike risks compared to existing airport landcovers, converting grasslands to these land uses could produce renewable energy and also provide airports with an additional source of revenue.
Ongoing and future NWRC research hopes to identify renewable energy practices, including specific types of biofuel crops, which limit use by wildlife hazardous to aircraft and are compatible with safe airport operations. NWRC researchers and collaborators are currently studying wildlife use of solar arrays and adjacent airport grasslands in Arizona, Colorado and Ohio, as well as wildlife use of experimental plots containing switchgrass and mixed warm-season native grasses in Mississippi. Researchers note the economic profitability of biofuel, solar or wind production will vary markedly, but will depend primarily on yield, establishment and maintenance costs, opportunity costs of land (i.e., land rental or revenue from other commodities), and processing or utilization costs. For many airports where land is currently available, the benefits may outweigh the costs.