University of Iowa

University of Iowa

Renewable Energy

2020 Sustainability Vision - to achieve 40 percent renewable energy use in ten years.

The University of Iowa is a leader in renewable energy strategies and sustainability practices. From renewable fuels to wind power and sustainable design, Iowa is pioneering the way toward an energy-independent future.

The UI's Environmental Portfolio

Biomass Fuels

The University of Iowa is committed to increasing the use of renewable energy, thereby reducing our reliance on coal, purchased electricity, and natural gas.

Biomass Fuel Project
The biomass fuel project exists to support the 2020 Sustainability Vision - Task 2. The task requires us to green our energy portfolio and achieve 40% renewable energy by 2020. Replacing coal with biomass is central to our strategy. A variety of biomass fuels sources are being investigated including micanthus grass, timber stand/wood chips, and organic industrial byproducts. More on the Biomass Fuel Project...

Biomass fuelOat Hulls
In 2003, the UI Power Plant pioneered a unique and innovative source of fuel, oat hulls, through a partnership with Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Oat hulls provide an economical, environmentally friendly source of fuel. The hulls are a by-product of the cereal making process at Quaker. They are trucked to the Power Plant and co-fired with coal in the circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler.

The energy produced from oat hull combustion replaces energy that would have been generated by burning coal. The oat hulls are biomass, and burning biomass does not result in new CO2 emissions to the atmosphere. When the oat plant grew, it absorbed CO2 from the atmosphere and released oxygen (photosynthesis). When the plant matter is burned, atmospheric oxygen is used in combustion and CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. However, when fossil fuels (such as coal and oil) are burned the CO2 they release adds to the global inventory of CO2, because the carbon in the fuel came from underground, versus the atmosphere. Oat Hulls Fuel Project (.pdf)


The UI's use of biomass in our on-site Power Plant has produced the following results:

  • During 2003 – 2008, biomass provided an average of 12% of the University’s energy consumption while costing only around 3% of the energy budget (see Purchased Energy)
  • The UI generates nearly 9 million kilowatt-hours of biomass power annually, equivalent to 3 percent of its electricity use. The equivalent to that is powering almost 900 average American homes annually.
  • The UI pays for the oat hulls delivered to the main plant at a cost of about 1/2 that of an equivalent amount of coal.



Tons of Coal Displaced

 Avoided CO2 Emissions Metric Tons





























10-Yr Total



**CY08 and CY09 adversely affected by 2008 flood at both UI Power Plant and Quaker Oats.

University of Iowa statement on coal ash displacement

Landfill Gas Project

The University of Iowa, the City of Iowa City, and MidAmerican Energy Company have been working as partners on a project could transport landfill gas from the City of Iowa City landfill to the University of Iowa/Oakdale Research Park via an underground pipeline and be used to produce electric power and heat for the UI/Oakdale Research Park campus.
Landfill Gas Project

Oakdale Renewable Energy Plant (OREP)

The University of Iowa/Oakdale Research Park Campus utility system has undergone modernization into a state-of-the-art district energy system in order to provide a cost-effective, reliable and renewable energy source in response to increased growth on that campus. The goal is to operate on 100% renewable energy. Oakdale Renewable Energy Plant project.

Exploring New Energy Sources

The University of Iowa is continually looking for ways to conserve energy and utilize renewable energy sources.   Current projects include:

Biomass Alternatives: A number of biomass fuels are being studied. The success of the oat hull burning project has resulted in the evaluation of additional sources and types of biomass for use in the Power Plant. Biomass Project.

Solar Charging StationSolar Energy Technology: The University of Iowa currently employs solar panel technology on two facilities, the Solar Electric Vehicle Charging Station and the Cambus Maintenance Facility. We continue to evaluate additional types and locations for solar technology.

Wind Energy: The University of Iowa is exploring the possibilities of developing wind energy at or near the UI campus.  This includes collecting wind velocity data at multiple sites and partnering with our utility providers, the College of Engineering and others to define future projects.

Hydroelectric capabilities: The Power Plant was built in the 1920s and enclosed an existing hydroelectric facility. The hydroelectric facility continued to generate power until the 1960s, when the unit was shut down and the equipment removed. However, the structural portion of this facility is still inside the Power Plant and a restored hydroelectric generator could generate about 500-KW of renewable energy.

Expand steam capabilities: The steam production capacity of the Power Plant needs to be increased in the near future. We are evaluating the possibility of installing a solid fuel furnace to produce steam using biomass fuels. This would substantially increase the percent of renewable energy in the University’s purchased energy portfolio.

purchased energy

The UI's District Energy System is a Combined Heat and Power System that produces all campus steam energy and about 20% of the electric power used on campus. The UI's purchased energy comes from several sources. Purchased Energy

Want to learn more?

Want to find out more about renewable energy at the UI or support renewable energy technologies?

Ferman Milster
Principal Engineer

List of UI Sustainable Practices