University of Iowa, Iowa DNR agreement expands biofuel testing

By Iowa State University, Wendy Moorhead | April 13, 2016

The University of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have reached a landmark agreement that will help advance the UI’s renewable-energy goals while continuing to protect Iowa’s air quality.

The innovative air-quality permit allows for the expanded use and testing of locally available, environmentally friendly fuels at the University of Iowa Power Plant, helping to accelerate the UI’s transition away from coal. Unique in Iowa, the permit is the result of several years of collaboration between the UI and the DNR.

 “This new permit would not be possible without our strong working relationship with the DNR.  We share mutual goals of protecting the environment and increasing renewable-energy resources for Iowa," says Ben Fish, associate director of utilities and energy management at the UI.

The Plantwide Applicability Limit permit provides the UI with greater flexibility in managing utility operations to serve campus growth and a streamlined permitting process, improving efficiency and reducing costs. The PAL caps UI air-pollutant emissions through 2026 based on historical emission levels.

“This permit is a great example of how we proactively work as a department to protect the environment but also assist in finding and supporting innovative ways of doing so,” says DNR Director Chuck Gipp.

In 2010, the UI set a target of 40 percent renewable-energy usage by 2020. With the continued expansion of the UI biofuels project, officials expect biomass usage could peak as high as 32 percent in 2016.

“As we celebrate Earth Day this month, there is no more appropriate time to reaffirm the UI’s commitment to sustainability, one of the most significant issues we all face in making a better world for all. The PAL agreement with the Iowa DNR demonstrates what great progress we have made in the university’s 2020 Vision sustainability plan, and it propels that progress further toward our 40-percent-renewable-energy target,” says UI President Bruce Harreld. “I thank our campus and state leaders who made this agreement possible, and I call on the entire university community to make sustainability a core value in our operations, teaching, and research, in order to have the broadest impact possible.”

The UI began using oat hulls as biomass fuel in its main power plant more than 13 years ago. Since then, the main power plant has expanded its use of biomass fuels to include wood chips and Miscanthus grass. UI Facilities Management and the UI Office of Sustainability continue to investigate and develop other innovative biomass fuel sources.