UI receives grant to study biomass fuels for campus power plant

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Friday, March 9, 2012

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

The grant, from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, 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. Ferman Milster, associate director in UI Facilities Management and in the UI Office of Sustainability, is coordinating the Biomass Partnership Project, which includes partners from ISU, the University of Northern Iowa, the U.S. Forest Service, and the Iowa Flood Center. Private industry will also be consulted in area such as forestry and logistics.

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 percent renewable energy offers an opportunity to engage the local economy for our energy supplies," Milster says. "It is exciting for me personally, coming out of 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."

Several UI 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, Milster added.

The Biomass Partnership Project is part of the effort for the UI to achieve its 2020 Vision goal of 40 percent renewable energy consumption on the campus by 2020. More information here.

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. For more information on the Leopold Center grants visit.

For more information on the Biomass Partnership Project, contact Milster by email or at 319-335-5132. Click here for a copy of the grant proposal. Click here for more information about UI renewable energy projects.