Public tours UI power plant, miscanthus fields


(Clarity R. Guerra/UI Office of Strategic Communications)

Nick Fetty | August 26, 2015

The University of Iowa on Tuesday hosted a field day to allow members of the public to tour the power plant as well as plots of a renewable energy source known as miscanthus.

Tuesday’s event was the third field day the UI has hosted for its Biomass Fuel Project which “aims to assess and improve university power plant facilities, biomass feedstock, and community awareness and education in biomass energy.” The Biomass Fuel Project is one part of the UI’s 2020 Vision which outlines ways for the UI to generate 40 percent of its on-campus energy usage from renewable sources by the 2020.

U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack spoke at Tuesday’s event and lauded the UI’s efforts on this project.

“It’s about making sure we create energy that is cleaner than what we did traditionally, and what we do to some extent today,” he said. “Economically it’s the right thing to do, and in so many other ways it’s the right thing to do.”

Loebsack also praised the UI for its effort to collaborate with Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa on the project. Emily Heaton is a professor of agronomy at ISU and she also spoke at Tuesday’s event. Heaton studies the science behind miscanthus, a perennial tall grass native to Asia, which the UI hopes to begin using to fuel the power plant. She said miscanthus offers “ecosystem services” not available with other renewable energy sources. Those services include miscanthus’ ability to pull carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil. Additionally, miscanthus’ deep root system helps prevent soil erosion and nutrient runoff into nearby waterways.

In addition to partnering with the other regent universities, UI has also partnered with landowners and growers in Johnson, Linn, and Muscatine counties to harvest the crop. The project started with a 16-acre plot in 2013 and today the UI maintains approximately 350 acres. Miscanthus’ height (at 10 to 12 feet) allows it to produce a higher yield per acre when compared to other similar biomass options.

Though UI officials are still in the experimental stages for using miscanthus as a fuel source, they hope that it will eventually be able to supply 10 percent of the campus’ energy usage.

VIDEO: KGAN – UI Using More Sustainable Energy

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