We have been working with a wide variety of folks to define how we are going to supply energy to meet our UI Vision 2020 Task 2 (2020T2) goal of greening our energy portfolio. 2020T2 requires us to be using 40 percent renewable energy. We intend to do this by replacing coal with biomass in our solid fuel boilers at the main power plant, and converting the University Research Park to biomass and landfill gas.
Twenty-six people attended a Biomass Parntership Project update meeting on campus last week. They came from UI Office of Sustainability, Iowa State University, University of Northern Iowa, John Deere, Amana Forestry, Iowa DNR, National Resource Conservation Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Iowa Flood Center, UI College of Engineering, and UI President’s Office.
We worked on sourcing our renewable fuel from dedicated annual energy crops such as miscanthus, switch grass, and prairie grass; as well as supplies from tree plantations of poplar, aspen, and maple. There is a wealth of information technical and practical information available on this topic – as well as experts in Iowa. Some of our next steps will be to gather this information and make projections and business models for this type of fuel supply. We also hope to plant test plots in the local area as a demonstration of what can be done with dedicated energy crops.
Invasive plant species such as reed canary grass and thick stands of willow and poplar are a real problem in wetlands. These are lands that flood frequently. The flood kills the native vegetation, and the invasive species take over. The invasive species are not conductive to wildlife enhancement. They don’t produce seeds (food), and the ground cover is difficult for animals and birds to use for shelter. Agencies responsible for managing these lands are most interested in removing the invasive species, and restoring the land to native vegetation. It is not an easy process; but there may be an opportunity to build a compatible use of the land for wildlife improvement and a source of biomass fuel for UI.
Timber stand improvement (TSI) is used to improve the performance of forests and woodlands. It involves going into wooded areas and identifying what trees and vegetation can be removed, such that the remaining trees are able to thrive. Forest area that undergoes periodic TSI will produce better timber for commerce (logs), wildlife habitat, and recreation areas. We hope to demonstrate what this process looks like next winter.
There are other sources of fuel, such as tree trimmings,opportunity wood from storm damage, used wooden pallets, unused corn and soy bean seeds, and organic industrial by-products.
Look for periodic updates on this blog as we move forward with defining how we will achieve 2020T2.