Detroit airports to grow alternative jet fuel crops and attract bioenergy industries to the vicinity
Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Tue 12 July 2012 – Not content with just supplying alternative biofuel to airline customers sometime in the future, one US airport authority is planning to grow, harvest and process bioenergy crops on airport-owned property. Wayne County Airport Authority (WCAA), operator of Detroit Metropolitan (DTW) and Willow Run airports, is partnering with Michigan State University (MSU) Extension on the first project of its kind in the US Midwest. The two airports have around 1,700 acres (688 hectares) that is potentially suitable for cropping. If successful, says WCAA Interim CEO Genelle Allen, the project could attract businesses to the vicinity of the airports that would produce alternative jet and biodiesel fuels for use in aircraft and ground vehicles, and so bring economic development to Southeast Michigan as well as protect land around the airports from further encroachment.
The AgriEnergy Technology Demonstration project is supported by a $476,000 grant awarded by the Michigan Energy Office of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. 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.
Allen says the airport authority has been interested in exploring the potential of developing its property for some time and the initiative is part of a commitment to sustainable aviation. In order for aviation to protect itself against the depletion of fossil fuels and uncertainty of foreign sources of energy, part of the solution may be to grow it, she adds.
WCAA has leased to MSU Extension three acres of airport-owned land, and canola and oriental mustard seed crops have already been planted and will soon be harvested, refined and tested. MSU Extension will be responsible for the overall management of the project grant, while WCAA will provide access to and use of acreage at its airports for a portion of the project.
MSU Extension Project Manager Dennis Pennington expects the project will also determine the economic impact of growing, refining, storing and transporting the biomass.
A processing plant could be constructed on or near the airport. The locally grown biofuel crops could then be harvested, transported to the refinery and piped directly into the onsite airport fuel tanks. WCAA says current accessibility to rail lines and expressways also make it feasible to transport the product to other facilities.
A group of stakeholders was formed in January to promote and develop the use of alternative fuels at the airports. The group comprises government, the Genesee County Land Bank Authority, the Federal Aviation Administration, Honeywell UOP and other local interests. Participation from the aviation sector includes Delta Air Lines (Detroit Metropolitan is the second-biggest hub for the carrier), Shell ServisAir, the Air Transport Association of America and the Commercial Aviation Alternative Fuels Initiative (CAAFI).
According to CAAFI’s Executive Director, Richard Altman, airlines and ground support vehicles at Detroit Metropolitan use more than one million gallons of fuel each day.
The project is expected to be completed by February 2012.