oat hulls in someone's hands
February 20, 2017
Wendy Moorehead

University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced Feb. 20 that the University of Iowa campus will be coal-free by 2025.

“In 2025, we expect to have diminished our reliance on coal to the point it is no longer included in our fuel portfolio. The university will continue to pursue and develop its innovative renewable energy program to ensure an abundant supply of alternative sources of energy. It’s the right choice for our students and our campus, and it’s the surest path to an energy-secure future.”

In 2008, the University of Iowa embarked on a multi-phased journey to achieve an ambitious set of sustainability targets on or before Dec. 31, 2020. One of those targets was to pursue an aggressive 40 percent renewable energy goal that would help transition the campus from its dependency on fossil fuels like coal to increasing its use of biomass and other renewable energy sources.

Since 2008, the UI campus has reduced its use of coal by 60 percent. In late 2016, the UI achieved a single-day high of 52 percent energy generated from renewable fuels and averaged 50 percent that week.

Glen Mowery, director of utilities and energy management, says, “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.”

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. The UI has already planted 550 acres of Miscanthus, including in Muscatine, Iowa City, and at the Cedar Rapids Airport, and will plant an additional 250 to 350 acres during the spring of 2017.

Erin Hazen, renewable energy business development manager in Facilities Management, says, “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. 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.”

Along this journey, the University of Iowa has worked closely 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.

Rod Lehnertz, senior vice president for finance and operations, says, “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. In addition, the UI’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship are important factors when recruiting and inspiring students, faculty, and those who support the University of Iowa.”