Biomass Fuels Help Power University of Iowa

New grant from Leopold Center for Sustainable Ag will help expand use of biorenewable fuel sources for campus power plant at University of Iowa.

Published on: Mar 14, 2012

The University of Iowa has received a $25,000 grant to help expand its use of biorenewable fuel in the campus power plants at Iowa City.

The grant, from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University in Ames, will help the UI locate and procure additional sources of biomass fuel to replace coal at the UI Main Power Plant, while also improving environmental performance of Iowa lands and resources and stimulating the local rural economy.

The UI has been using oat hulls as a source of biofuel since 2003 and recently started testing woody biomass fuels such as wood chips. The oat hulls are supplied by grain processing companies in nearby Cedar Rapids, such as the Quaker Oats plant.

Biomass Fuels Help Power University of Iowa
Biomass Fuels Help Power University of Iowa

Ferman Milster, associate director in UI Facilities Management and a representative of the UI Office of Sustainability, is coordinating the Biomass Partnership Project. The project includes partners from ISU at Ames, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Iowa Flood Center. Private industry will also be consulted for their expertise in areas such as forestry and logistics.

Several groups working together to study various types of renewable biofuels

Several working groups are being convened to study different types of renewable biofuels including invasive plants, switchgrass, and miscanthus grass. Milster will also team up with foresters and local park officials to see how residual wood from timber improvement projects and small logging operations, along with trees felled during storms, could also be used as biomass fuel.

Geographic information systems (GIS) will be used by a working group to help identify biomass fuel that could be harvested within a 50- to 75-mile radius of Iowa City. Another group will study the logistics of a fuel yard that would receive, process, and store large quantities of biorenewable solid fuel to support the UI Power Plant.

"Our 2020 goal of 40% renewable energy offers an opportunity to engage the local economy as a source for our energy supplies," Milster says. "It is exciting for me personally, coming out of my working experience in the energy and power industry, to now be learning and working with the agriculture and forestry professions to develop renewable fuel supplies for the university."

Goal is to supply 40% of UI energy needs with renewable energy by 2020

Several University of Iowa graduate and undergraduate students will conduct applied research projects in these working groups to gain practical experience while providing valuable data and observations for the Biomass Partnership, says Milster.

The Biomass Partnership Project is part of the effort for the UI to achieve its 2020 Vision goal of 40% renewable energy consumption on the campus by 2020. See http://sustainability.uiowa.edu/vision-2020-the-university-of-iowa-s-sustainability-targets/.

The grant from the Leopold Center was one of 21 new projects that will bring Iowa's ecology, economy and sociopolitical systems closer to sustainability. See http://www.leopold.iastate.edu/news/02-01-2012/leopold-center-awards-21-new-grant-projects for information on the Leopold Center grants.

For more information on the Biomass Partnership Project, contact Milster at 319-335-5132 or ferman-milster@uiowa.edu. For a copy of the grant proposal, see http://sustainability.uiowa.edu/assets/Images/Biomass-Partnership-Project.pdf. See http://www.facilities.uiowa.edu/uem/renewable-energy for more information about UI renewable energy projects.