A big step forward in energy sustainability
Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The University of Iowa is about to get reenergized: the university will soon be growing its own crop dedicated entirely to creating energy.

The plant—a sterile hybrid grass called Miscanthus—will be harvested and used to supply power, steam, and chilled water to the main campus.

Miscanthus rhizome
Miscanthus rhizomes will be planted as part of a local, dedicated energy crop for the University of Iowa. Photo courtesy of Facilities Management.

The project is part of the UI’s Biomass Fuel Project, designed to reduce the use of fossil fuels by substituting locally available renewable materials in the main Power Plant, with the goal of achieving 40 percent renewable energy consumption by 2020.

The project will move forward by securing land commitments for approximately 2,500 acres, beginning with approximately 200 acres planted this spring as broad scale demonstration plots. Test plots of Miscanthus x giganteus were planted in 2013 and 2014 on farms near Muscatine, Iowa, and south of Iowa City as part of a biomass feasibility study. The UI will advance the project from an experimental phase to commercial scale with the help of agricultural management services provider Repreve Renewables, LLC. 

“It has been our objective to develop more local and sustainable resources to produce renewable energy and to rely less on out-of-state fossil fuels,” says Ferman Milster, the UI engineer for the project.

Through partnerships involving Facilities Management, the Office of Sustainability, and the College of Engineering, the university is studying and developing other locally sourced biomass alternatives. Recent improvements to the main Power Plant allow for increased usage of biomass for the main campus and improvements to the Oakdale Renewable Energy Plant at the UI Research Park were made with the goal of operating that campus on 100 percent renewable energy.

"The UI Power Plant partnership with the Office of Sustainability and others across campus has generated excellent results towards our 2020 goal. We will continue to focus on the use of dedicated energy crops, such as Miscanthus, and optimize the way the crop is delivered to the boilers in the Power Plant," says UI Power Plant Manager Ben Anderson.

If you are interested in learning more about biomass at the UI or growing dedicated energy crops for the UI, visit the UI Facilities Management Energy and Environment website.

This project is part of the University of Iowa’s 2020 Vision commitment to sustainability.