According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, land which surrounds airports could become a significant source of biomass for biofuels According to the agricultural secretary Tom Vilsack converting airport grasslands to biofuel, solar or wind production will not only provide more environmentally sound alternative energy sources, but may also increase revenue for airports and reduce the local abundance of potentially hazardous wildlife to aircraft.
The recent study, which findings were published in Environmental Management was conducted by researchers from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The article indicates that airports may want to consider converting to alternative fuels where it is both economically and environmentally beneficial.
Federal regulations require airports to have a certain amount of land surrounding runways for noise control. Some of the qualities of that land mesh quite well with the ideal qualities of land for alternative energy production, according to the researchers. The most suitable alternative energy location would offer large expanses of idle land with little presence of wildlife, being mostly unsuitable for conservation initiatives and would not compete with human food production. Airport are one of the few places in the U.S. where the reduction of wildlife abundance and habitat quality are actually encouraged and it is also an area where you are not allowed to grow food crops. Both the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Department of Agriculture think these lands are now going to waste: the former promotes wind energy, while the latter support the biofuel cause.
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 aircrafts. Ongoing and future NWRC research will look into biofuel crops that have low wildlife-strike risks and are compatible with safe airport regulations. NWRC researchers and collaborators are currently studying wildlife use of solar arrays and adjacent airport grasslands in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio and others, as well as wildlife use of experimental plots containing switchgrass and mixed warm-season native grasses in Mississippi.
The Indianapolis International Airport already begun putting their grasslands to a good use. Last year it approved a plan to lease out part of its property to a company for a solar panel farm that will include 41 thousand solar panels on 60 acres. The airport made sure the light wouldn’t cause glares and the panels wouldn’t become a nesting area for birds. For more info on Indiana, see: indianapublicmedia.org/news/airports-serve-solar-farms-28840/