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Miscanthus Biomass Fuel Project

Miscanthus is one of many plants can be grown as a dedicated energy crop grown for the express purpose of producing biofuel or biopower. The University of Iowa in partnership with Iowa State University aim to create and promote a dedicated energy crop alternative to traditional row cropping. 

A number of perennial grasses can be grown to provide biomass energy.  They include prairie grass, switchgrass .  Prairie and switch grass are native to Iowa and produce flowers and seeds, which improve wildlife habitat.  Miscanthus x giganteus (Mxg) is a sterile variety of of miscanthus that is propagated vegitatively. 

Perennial grasses offer the potential to:

  • Sequester more carbon in the soil compared with traditional row crops
  • Grow on 'marginal' agriculture lands with significantly lower inputs, compared to traditional row crops
  • Provide a new revenue source, coupled to energy prices versus agriculture commodities
  • Improve soil conservation and water quality
  • Improve wildlife habitat


 Energy Crops Infographic

Miscanthus Development Plan to Deliver a Sustainable and Renewable BioPower Feedstock

This plan is designed to produce 25 percent of the required renewable energy needed to satisfy The University of Iowa’s 2020 goal of 40 percent renewable energy at a price competitive with current fossil fuel supplies. A dedicated energy crop, Miscanthus x giganteus (Miscanthus), will be established on 2,500 acres in Iowa to produce 22,500 tons of sustainable and renewable biopower feedstock to replace a portion of the University’s coal supply. To support the development of the project there is a significant amount of marginal agricultural production land in Southeast Iowa. A portion of the marginal land can support dedicated energy crop production without adverse impact to row‐crop production. This proposed project will help in the fulfillment of The University of Iowa’s sustainability promise of a greener energy portfolio while producing numerous economic, environmental, and social benefits to the local economy. Read the complete plan here.

The University of Iowa and Iowa State University partnership

UI and ISU are partnering on the miscanthus pilot project.  The following points provide additional description and justification for this project structure.

  • UI has partnered with ISU Agronomy Department, specifically Dr. Emily Heaton, to establish two pilot plantings of Miscanthus in Southeast Iowa. Dr. Heaton has been collaborating with UI for over a year, providing agronomy expertise as we develop our renewable energy fuel supplies to meet our 2020 goal of 40% renewable energy.
  • ISU is on the leading edge with expertise in harvesting and transporting biomass, primarily as a result of research into corn stover use in cellulosic ethanol production. This technology is transferable to miscanthus production and harvesting.  We will be partnering and consulting with ISU agronomy and ag engineering experts as we approach time for harvest to determine the optimum methods available at that time. This is an area where technology and equipment manufacturers are changing rapidly.  It is likely there will be new and/or improved harvest methods when we are ready for our first harvest.
  • ISU is growing miscanthus and has an active miscanthus research program underway.  However, the plantings are small, research-funded plots committed to other uses - they are not suitable for producing the quantity of miscanthus needed to discover the data needed to stimulate growing miscanthus in our area-of-interest (50-mile radius from Iowa City).  Also, the farms ISU uses for growing crops are either committed to other programs or too far from Iowa City to support a pilot miscanthus project in our area-of-interest.

View ISU 2014 Crop Advantage Series presentation

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Sustainability at Iowa

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200 South Clinton St.
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