University of Iowa gains permit to experiment with biofuels


A tour of the University of Iowa Power Plant

KC McGinnis | April 19, 2016

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources has granted the University of Iowa a unique clean air permit that will allow it to experiment and test biofuels as an alternative to burning coal.

The Plantwide Applicability Limit (PAL) allows the University of Iowa Power Plant greater flexibility in using biomass products like oat hulls, wood chips and miscanthus as local energy sources. It’s part of the UI’s goal of generating 40 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

The permit allows the UI to further experiment with its burning of biomass, which may not always produce lower greenhouse gas emissions than coal, without violating clean air standards. Further research and development like what the University of Iowa is currently doing may help bring emissions from those biofuel sources further down, making them a more viable option for clean, renewable, local energy in the future.

The University of Iowa Power Plant already burns oat hulls and wood chips using specialized technology, and the UI has its own experimental miscanthus crop just outside Iowa City. These sources are not only renewable, but unlike coal they also produce oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide during their lifetime, further offsetting net emissions.

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