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Bio-Renewables Field Day

Over 70 people attended the Bio-Renewables Field Day held Wednesday, September 10, at the Dan Black farm south of Iowa City. The event was sponsored by Iowa Learning Farms (ILF), the University of Iowa Office of Sustainability and FM Utilities & Energy Management. The focus of the field day was the Miscanthus Pilot Project test plot and the University of Iowa’s investigations into the use of perennial grasses and woody biomass as fuel for the Main Power Plant.

Jacqueline Comito, ILF Program Manager, explained the role of Iowa Living Farms in organizing the event and Dr. Emily Heaton, ISU, discussed the agronomic research that is being conducted on miscanthus, in partnership with the UI. Dan Black, land owner, shared his experiences with field preparation and planting the new-to-Iowa crop, and Ben Anderson, UI Main Power Plant Manager, explained why the UI is considering this alternative fuel and the processing steps necessary to use the material in the power plant.

Attendees included representatives from Iowa DNR, Clear Creek Watershed Steering Committee, Kirkwood Community College, the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities, the Johnson County Conservation Board, and State Senator Robert Dvorsky, State Representative Sally Stutsman, Johnson County Supervisors Pat Harney and John Etheredge, as well as many local agricultural producers and reporters from local media.

After presentations, the group walked through the miscanthus plot and asked specific questions about producing and harvesting the biomass crop. A meal was provided by the Johnson County Cattlemen’s Association.

The University of Iowa will be contracting with an agricultural services manager to enlist local landowners to grow fuel crops for the power plant. The use of miscanthus as an alternative fuel to coal will assist the UI in meeting its vision of achieving 40% renewable energy use on campus by 2020.
Giant Miscanthus is a sterile perennial crop native to eastern Asia. Although development of this grass for bioenergy and biofuel is in the early stages in the U.S, it has been grown in Europe to produce energy for over 30 years. Miscanthus is a prime energy crop candidate because of its high yield and significant drying down before harvest.

The five-year UI Biomass Fuel Project is exploring the use of different biomass fuels for sustainable energy. The project team is developing a Sustainability Index to help the UI evaluate the sustainability of various biomass fuels. Additional potential fuels include other energy grasses such as switchgrass and prairie, wood chips, and paper sludge.

The UI has been using oat hulls as a biofuel source since 2003. The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, a partner of Iowa Learning Farms, has funded this project through multiple competitive grants. For more information about the Biomass Fuel Project, visit the website:

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