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Opinion: Colorado Ag can play a big role in aviation biofuels

Congressional support for sustainable aviation fuels would help the environment and boost family farms

As people who make their living off the land, Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are on the front lines of climate impacts and climate solutions. The majority of farms and ranches in Colorado have been in production for several generations. This gives agriculture producers a keen insight into the importance of protecting and stewarding our state’s vital natural resources. 

James Henderson

That’s why farmers and ranchers are working to invest in products, processes, and activities that will reduce emissions and improve the sustainability of agriculture and our state’s economy. Through farming methods like no-till cropping or rotational grazing, and advanced technologies like GPS to support precision farming, agriculture is a part of the solution to meeting our climate goals. 

The industry also is a partner in using technologies like advanced biofuels that help reduce overall emissions and make the transportation sector more sustainable. While many of us are acquainted with biofuels in road-going vehicles, it may come as a surprise that they are increasingly being adopted in the aviation and aerospace sectors.

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Millions of people fly every day, so the aerospace industry is constantly working on new ways to make air travel more efficient and cleaner. And in the coming years, Colorado agriculture will be a crucial partner with aerospace in advancing and producing sustainable aviation fuels.   

Studies have shown that sustainable aviation fuels can reduce life-cycle carbon emissions from airplanes by up to 80 percent compared to standard petroleum fuel. It can be made from several sources, including non-edible plants, agricultural and forestry waste. Our farmers and ranchers soon will be able to help supply this sustainable fuel.

Colorado’s own Gevo, a renewable chemicals and advanced biofuels company, is one of several companies that has announced its intention to build a sustainable aviation fuels production plant. 

According to industry projections, these planned facilities will have a combined annual capacity of more than 800 million gallons by 2025. This capability can have one of the most significant positive environmental impacts over the next few decades. It is already in use around the world, fueling more than a quarter-million total flights and counting.

As part of our mission at the Colorado Farm Bureau, we work to promote, protect and enhance rural and agricultural communities throughout the state. We see sustainable aviation fuel as an emerging avenue for economic and job opportunities for our members and the state. It will provide new demand for agricultural products and help make family farms and ranches more environmentally friendly and economically robust. 

Our agriculture industry is well-positioned to provide long-term production of the feedstocks necessary to support a robust supply of the fuel. Use of the technology can help better utilize crops produced from marginal and underutilized cropland, ensuring little conflict with food production and other high-value ag products. This helps the industry be more efficient and a better steward of our natural resources.

As the use of sustainable aviation fuel grows, so will the opportunities for our state’s agriculture economy and the rural communities it both supports and needs to be successful.

Our state is also home to a strong and growing aviation and aerospace industry, with at least 1,000 aerospace companies who employ more than 33,000 people and have an economic impact of $6.8 billion. Aviation partners such as United Airlines have a large footprint in Colorado and are eager to increase the use of sustainable aviation fuel. The company recently announced a joint multimillion-dollar investment in Alder Fuels, coupled with a commitment to purchase 1.5 billion gallons of its sustainable aviation fuel. 

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Investing in the technology now will ensure that our state is on the ground level of something that will continue to grow. Washington should include support for sustainable aviation fuels in the proposed infrastructure spending package to help fuel producers and communities realize the technology’s benefits.

The Colorado Farm Bureau and other groups are also asking Congress to allow for the use of agricultural feedstocks in future programs to support the production of the fuel. Agricultural feedstocks are readily available and will play a key role in future fuel production and expansion of the underlying technology. 

A future where aviation and agriculture team up to improve sustainability and grow local communities is not far away. Then we will all enjoy the benefits to Colorado’s air, environment, and economy.


James Henderson, of La Jara, is a rancher in the San Luis Valley and Vice President of the Colorado Farm Bureau. 


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