photo by Bruce Marlin (source: Wikimedia Commons)

East Midlands Airport in the United Kingdom will be partly powered by a biomass boiler fueled by willow trees. The trees have already been planted on a 26-hectare farm next to the airport’s runway.

This is the first project of its kind in the UK and part of the East Midlands Airport’s goal of making its ground operations carbon neutral by the year 2012. According to a Press Association report, the willow farm should annually produce around 280 tons of wood fuel, saving 350 tons of CO2 emissions.

Some environmental activists expressed criticism of the project as more of a publicity stunt than a real attempt to go green, citing the environmental impacts of air travel.

From an article in the Telegraph:

They boast that their willow farm will save 350 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year but this pales in comparison to the CO2 that flights from the airport pump into the atmosphere every year.

– Vicky Wyatt, Greenpeace

Willow trees’ advantages as a renewable resource include their high yield, genetic diversity and easy cultivation. In addition to being burned as biomass, willow can be used to make biofuel and biodegradable plastics.

Additional resources:

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry – The Willow Biomass Project