Baseload, Bioenergy

University of Iowa Plans Coal-free Future; Biomass Program Ramping Up

University of Iowa (UI) President Bruce Harreld said this week that the UI campus will be coal-free by 2025, and biomass will be at the heart of the transition to increased renewable energy use.

Glen Mowery, director of utilities and energy management for UI, said in a Feb. 20 statement: “We expect the renewable percentage to rise sharply over the next couple of years as the biomass program continues to ramp up. The UI alternative energy model to replace coal is based on diversification and redundant biomass sourcing to ensure reliable power and steam for our campus. Our current fuel portfolio includes oat hulls, Miscanthus energy grass, wood chips, and green energy pellets. With these strategies in place, we believe our biomass program is one of the most advanced of any school in the U.S. and puts us on track for a coal-free UI Power Plant by 2025.”

UI said that, in 2013, the Facilities Management team partnered with Iowa State University to develop a dedicated energy crop, Miscanthus grass, with local farmers living within 50 miles of Iowa City. UI has planted 550 acres of Miscanthus, and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres this spring.

“Our plan is to establish up to 2,500 acres locally by 2020 and to produce 22,500 tons of this sustainable and renewable bio-power feedstock to replace a portion of our coal use,” Erin Hazen, renewable energy business development manager in Facilities Management, said.  “In addition, we recently completed successful operational testing of green energy pellets, and looking ahead, we expect this fuel will be an important contributor to the renewable energy program.”

UI said that it has worked with researchers across campus and at Iowa State; collaborated with UI College of Engineering and Tippie College of Business MBA students; partnered with the Iowa DNR on a landmark PAL air quality permit agreement; and teamed up with industry experts to develop diverse fuel sources as well as to optimize the power plant’s handling and combustion of these new alternative fuels.

“Transitioning off coal to locally sourced biomass is cost-competitive and provides maximum economic value to the state by providing jobs to the local economy and taking advantage of Iowa’s outstanding agricultural producers,” Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for finance and operations at UI, said.