Clean Energy At Airports Could Find Space Around Runways, Study Says

A new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that bustling airports could serve a vital new function, doubling as alternative energy factories.

The study findings, recently published in an Environmental Management article titled “Airports Offer Unrealized Potential for Alternative Energy Production [PDF],” indicate that airports might want to consider converting empty land into alternative fuel power plants where it is both economically and environmentally beneficial.

Right now, many U.S. airports are surrounded by acres of empty grassland. While there are federal restrictions on how this land can be used, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is working with airports interested in pursuing the potential for changes in land use to support alternative energy production.

“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.

Alternative energy projects at major hubs like the Indianapolis and Denver airports, as well as smaller airports like the one in Chattanooga, Tenn., demonstrate the potential for benefits across the airport spectrum. 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.

National Wildlife Research Center researchers 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, to help airports make informed decisions about how to use their land.