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East Midland willow farm a very small step

1st April, 2010

We reproduce an article from the Press Association and we then give AEF’s comments.

PA news item – Willow trees to power airport

An airport will become the first in the UK to be powered partly by willow trees, it has confirmed. The first cuttings in the 26-hectare willow farm planned at East Midlands Airport have been planted.

The trees will produce fuel for a biomass boiler in the terminal building, a spokeswoman said. The farm, located north of the runway on land owned by the airport, is expected to produce about 280 tonnes of wood fuel each year. This will save 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, the spokeswoman said.

Neil Robinson, the airport’s director of sustainability, said: “This is a landmark day for East Midlands Airport and we are delighted that the willow farm has now been planted and that we are the first UK airport to do this.

We believe we are leading the way for airports and this is the first step of an ongoing process that will take approximately five years to complete.

By growing our own wood fuel we are taking another important step towards our overall goal to make our ground operations carbon neutral by 2012.

The willow farm is one in a long line of projects that will provide energy for our on-site buildings and will help us to become more sustainable for the future.”

More than 26 hectares of willow trees are expected to be planted at the Derbyshire airport by 2013.

AEF comment

The willow farm at East Midlands airport should provide a little help in fighting climate change.

But such schemes, even if replicated across the UK, could only make a very small contribution towards the cuts that are needed from the aviation industry if Britain is to meet its climate targets, as while they may help reduce emissions from airports, they do not address the main source of emissions, namely aircraft.

Emissions of CO2 from civil aviation in the UK are about 40 million tonnes pa and projected to increase to about 60 million tonnes by 2030.  (Estimates from Department for Energy and Climate Change, Jan 2009.)

To grow enough willow to offset Britain’s current aviation emissions would require about 32,000 sq km.  That is, some 13% of the England’s entire land area.  But this figure assumes that no extra CO2 is emitted in harvesting and processing the willow.  To the extent that the process is not 100% efficient, even more land would be needed to offset aviation’s emissions.

In the case of aircraft, CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas emitted. The government multiplies CO2 emissions by a factor of 1.9 in order to allow for non-CO2 emissions.  That factor does not allow for cirrus cloud formation, which may add a lot more global warming.

It is not a specific AEF issue, but there are great concerns about using up land for biofuels. While it may be argued that the land used for this particular willow farm would not have grown food, there is no doubt that use of land for biofuels around the world is increasing food prices and will exacerbate food shortages.