Operating Coal-Free By 2025

The University of Iowa power plant will increase its use of biomass and other renewable energy sources to meet this goal.

By Wendy Moorehead
From the April 2017 Issue

University of Iowa (UI) President, Bruce Harreld, announced in February 2017 that the university 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,” stated Harreld.

(Image: Infographic by Josh Brdicko, Marketing + Design, university of Iowa, BFA ’18)

In 2008, the UI embarked on a multi-phased journey to achieve an ambitious set of sustainability targets on or before December 31, 2020. One of those targets was to pursue an aggressive 40% 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%. In late 2016, the UI achieved a single-day high of 52% energy generated from renewable fuels and averaged 50% 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 UI 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 UI 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 Department of Natural Resources on a landmark PAL (plantwide applicability limit) 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, UI 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.”

coalMoorehead is the strategic communications manager in facilities management at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA. She graduated from the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business with a BBA degree in Marketing. She has several publications to her credit, including two articles for APPA on the topic of UI’s award-winning Energy Hawks and Energy Control Center.

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