The University of Iowa

Renewable Energy

UI Utilities and its energy delivery partner, Engie, are on target to reach their goals established in 2020: 1) meet the “Zero Coal by 2025” goal, and 2) continue to pursue and integrate sustainable, low-cost fuel options into the existing utility system. Alternative fuel testing is ongoing and is on track to offset coal by 2025 or sooner. Our current fuel portfolio includes oat hulls, Miscanthus energy grass, and energy pellets.

Zero Coal by 2025

The University of Iowa has implemented an innovative and sustainable strategy to transition off coal while focusing on providing reliable energy to the campus, research facilities, and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. This strategy includes growing a portfolio of locally sourced biomass including partnering with local farmers to develop a miscanthus energy crop. University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld announced Feb. 20, 2017 that the University of Iowa campus will be coal-free by 2025. Read the announcement.

Biomass, Renewable, Alternative Portfolio

In 2003, the University of Iowa began exploring renewable alternatives to coal to fuel the boilers in the power plant. Though developing biomass is one of the important ways to divert the UI power plant away from fossil fuels, it’s not necessarily a new idea. For example, wood-burning stoves or campfires are technically fueled by biomass. Biomass is renewable organic materials that come from plants and animals. However, the University of Iowa is exploring innovative new forms of biomass, including the consumer byproducts, oat hulls, energy pellets, and Miscanthus grass. 

Oat hulls
Oat Hulls

Introduced in 2003, this public-private collaboration created a new market for this oat hull by-product. Over the first 10 years of use, oat hulls displaced 183,000 tons of coal and generated approximately $7.6M in savings.

Miscanthus Grass

The UI is growing its own energy in the form of Miscanthus grass and is on track to plant 2,500 acres to produce 22,500 tons of sustainable and renewable fuel for the campus annually and to create a dedicated energy crop alternative to traditional row cropping to provide a stable income to Iowa's farmers.

Energy Pellets
Energy Pellets

These manufacturing by-products are non-recyclable and divert waste from the landfill, and result in approximately 60% improvement in CO2 emissions vs. coal. Pellets can be blended with Miscanthus or other biomass and used as fuel stock.

Next Steps for the Biomass Program

Innovation with energy partners ENGIE and Meridiam  

When the University of Iowa entered its public-private partnership with ENGIE, maintaining the university’s ambitious sustainability goals was an important part of the deal. Together with ENGIE and Meridiam, the University of Iowa Energy Collaborative is dedicated to meeting the Zero Coal by 2025 goal and continuing to pursue innovative sustainability initiatives.


Contact, Research, and Resources

Contact Us

Ben Fish

Director, Utility Operations

FM Utilities




The University of Iowa Facilities Management has partnered with Dr. Betsy Stone, an assistant professor and researcher of the University of Iowa Chemistry Department, in order to determine the effects of co-firing biomass with coal on emissions of air pollutants. Results of Dr. Stone's studies have shown reductions in air pollutants when co-firing oat hulls.

PDF icon "Effects of Co-firing Biomass with Coal on Emissions of Air Pollutants," Ibrahim Al-Naiema and Elizabeth A. Stone, Department of Chemistry, University of Iowa
"Bravo to biomass, UI study shows using oat hulls for power has considerable benefits to the environment and human health," Iowa Now, 09/24/15.