Renewable Energy

to achieve 40 percent renewable energy use by 2020

UI biomass

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.

ui plants miscanthus at eastern iowa airport

The University of Iowa planted 65 acres of miscanthus at the Eastern Iowa Airport on Friday, May 15, 2015, as part of a partnership with the Airport and Iowa State University. This planting, along with other UI dedicated energy crops, the UI's oat hulls project and other biomass projects, will help the UI reach it's 2020 Goal of 40% renewable energy . KGAN-TV

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. The University Iowa currently burns biomass at two locations on-campus: the Main Power plant, located on the Iowa River in downtown Iowa City, and the UI Research Park in Coralville.

Biomass Fuel Project
The biomass fuel project supports the 2020 Sustainability Vision - Task 2 which 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 Miscanthus 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, burned along with coal at the Main Plant, accounts for approximately 10 percent of the fuel use.

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)

Power Plant Technology

Main Power Plant
The main power plant is a combined heat and power plant that serves the east side of campus with steam. The plant converted two solid fuel boilers to co-firing biomass resources. Boiler #10 is a stoker boiler which processes mainly woody resources and other test batches. Boiler #11 is a circulating fluid bed boiler that utilizes mainly oat hulls and wood chips .Using combined heat and power (CHP) and use of biomass fuels, the University of Iowa is able to co-generate energy for cost-effective electricity, cooling and water treatment on campus. And, since CHP is highly efficient, it reduces traditional air pollutants and carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas associated with climate change, as well.

Oakdale Renewable Energy Plant (OREP)
Biomass fuels are also burned in boilers at the University of Iowa Research Park. The University of Iowa/Oakdale Research Park Campus utility system recenlty underwent 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 Oakdale/UI Research Park campus district energy system includes two gas fired internal combustion engine generators with heat recovery, a wood chip boiler, a central chilled water plant, and three natural gas boilers.  The electric system is capable of operating in island mode, or in parallel with the grid for load management.  When operating in CHP mode, the system operates at an overall efficiency of 80%. The goal is to operate on 100% renewable energy. Oakdale Renewable Energy Plant project.

Landfill Gas Project

The University of Iowa continues to investigate opportunities with the City of Iowa City to create a beneficial partnership for the use of landfill gas.
Landfill Gas Project

Exploring New Energy Sources

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

Sustainable Energy Discovery District (SEDD)

The UI's evolving "Sustainable Energy Discovery District" is roughly bounded by the Madison Street Services Building (MSSB), the University Services Building and the UI Power Plant. The area engages several green energy technologies that include:

  • Energy Control Center on the third floor of the University Services Building
  • Solar E-car charging station near MSSB
  • Photovoltaic/solar panel technologies on and adjacent to the new Cambus
    Maintenance facility
  • Expansion of the biomass energy program at the UI Power Plant
  • Growing alternative fuel vehicle fleet
  • Investigation into the revitalization of hydroelectric power

Several of these projects are the outcome of collaborative efforts between Facilities Management and the College of Engineering. SEDD information.

Biomass Alternatives: 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 including including Miscanthus grass, timber stand/wood chips, and organic industrial byproducts. Biomass Fuel Sources.

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

**University of Iowa statement on coal ash displacement

Want to learn more?

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

Ben Fish
Assistant Director, Utility Operations
Utilities & Energy Management
(319) 384-0528

List of UI Sustainable Practices