Iowa City Stories

April 1, 2010

Renewable Energy at UI

Filed under: Local Issues — Aubrey @ 1:10 pm

It would take 39 million trees one year to absorb the over 200,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by coal burning at University of Iowa annually. To decrease its carbon emissions, UI utilizes some alternative, renewable energy sources. UI has several groups and project working to reduce energy costs, increase energy efficiency and decrease the university’s dependence on coal.

“Our vision is to transition away from coal,” said Ferman Milster, Associate Director of Utilities and Energy Management.

The Oat Hulls Project

One of the most promising renewable energy efforts is called the Oat Hulls Project. This project was made possible by a partnership with Quaker Oats Cedar Rapids Plant.

Oat hulls, a cereal-making by-product, produce energy through combustion when combined with coal in a special boiler, called a circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boiler.

Since oat hulls are a biomass, plant or animal materials used as fuel, they do not release new carbon into the atmosphere. This means that, during the life stage of the oats, they absorb carbon already in the atmosphere. When the oat hulls are burned, they release the carbon they absorbed during their life cycle.

Fossil fuels, such as coal, release carbon from below the earth’s surface, increasing the levels of carbon in the atmosphere when burned.

Oat Hulls at UI

After three years of testing, the UI used oat hulls full time in 2004. Oat hulls now represent 20 percent of the fuel consumed at UI’s power plant. Oat hull use represents three of the 15 percent of UI’s energy generated on campus.

Oat hulls save University of Iowa close to $1 million a year and displaced 103,185 tons of coal. In 2006 alone, UI used 41,514 tons of oat hulls, displacing 27, 424 tons of coal and reducing carbon emissions by 67,627 tons.

Due to the cost-effectiveness of oat hulls, UI charges less for the excess energy it sells.

“Everyone benefits from the savings,” Milster said.

Why Not Use Oat Hulls Nationwide?

The Oat Hulls Project is possible due to a partnership with the Quaker Oats Cedar Rapids Plant. Cedar Rapids is close enough to UI to make transporting and using oat hulls both cost effective and environmentally savvy. A longer commute would make transporting such a light material in high quantities no better or cheaper than coal.

Oat Hull Awards

So far, the Oat Hulls Project has won several awards. Two of these awards, both Governor’s Iowa Environmental Excellence Awards, were earned in 2004. In 2005, this project earned an Effective and Innovative Practices Award from the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers.

Other Honors

In addition to these awards, UI is a member of the Chicago Climate Exchange.  It was the first Iowa-based commercial unit to join CCX. UI has been a member since 2004. It is one of only seven public universities belonging to CCX.

What is the Chicago Climate Exchange?

CCX is North America’s only and the world’s first greenhouse gas emission registry, reduction and trading system for six types of greenhouse gases.

CCX is self-regulatory. Membership is a voluntary but legally binding commitment. To become a member, UI reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 46,800 metric tons more than required to meet the condition of a CCX membership. A member could release no more than 264,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide. UI releases 217,200 metric tons.

CCX Phases

UI is currently in phase II of their CCX membership. Phase I required UI to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions more than 4 percent below its baseline. The baseline is the average emissions generated annually from 1998 to 2001.

Phase II requires UI to reduce its emissions another 2 percent for a total 6 percent of reductions by 2010.

Other Goals

In addition to a 6 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, UI also aims to have renewable energy represent 15 percent of UI’s total energy portfolio by 2010. Currently, less than 11 percent of UI’s energy portfolio is renewable.

UI continues to explore cost-effective, renewable energy sources.

Aside from oat hulls, Milster said UI is looking to other renewable energy sources, including:

  • wind power
  • hydropower
  • anaerobic digester methane.

ADM is created through a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in landfills that is not exposed to oxygen. This process reduces landfill gas being released into the atmosphere and is a renewable energy source.

“We could potentially fuel UI using energy generated from the Iowa City landfill,” Milster said.

The Future of Energy Consumption Control at UI

UI Power Plant

A recent addition to UI’s energy-conserving groups is the Energy Control Center. It opened partially in fall 2009. The purpose of the ECC is to monitor, analyze and dispatch utility systems.

ECC allows energy production and consumption to be viewed as a single system. The ECC uses weather data to predict necessary energy consumption on campus. Using this information, the software predicts necessary water use for all buildings connected to the system up to 24 hours in advance. This information helps decide what boilers, chillers or turbines to use in the following days. It also helps UI with the purchase and utilization of coal, natural gas and electricity.

“Anywhere you can save energy can lead to a reduced carbon footprint,” George Paterson, administrative assistant of Utilities and Energy Management said.

“The project has been part of UI’s strategic energy plan since 2004. The ECC will enable trained staff to monitor the building systems and utilities usage, including electricity, steam and water and look for any abnormal usage. This will allow them to take a proactive approach in dealing with the building system. It monitors energy use in all buildings, viewing production of energy and consumption through energy management software. Energy engineers evaluate this information. This helps identify places where UI can save energy,” said Zuhair Mased, associate director of Utilities and Energy Management.

Due to software delays, ECC was not fully functional until January 2010. Some components, including the display room and steam metering and electrical systems, which show steam and energy usage, were partly operational in Fall 2009.


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1 Comment »

  1. […] Local Story by Aubrey on April 1, 2010 I just finished and posted my latest story for Online Journalism. Check it out! […]

    Pingback by Local Story « The Write Idea — April 1, 2010 @ 1:17 pm


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