Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy sectors expected to benefit from recently passed tax breaks

Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)
Iowa generated 27 percent of its electricity from wind energy last year which ranked highest in the country. (Samir Luther/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | December 18, 2014

A $41-billion package of tax breaks passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this week is expected to benefit Iowa’s biodiesel and wind energy industries.

The House passed the legislation (378 to 46) earlier this month with bipartisan support and after the Senate’s approval (76 to 16) it now awaits President Obama’s signature. Congress was unable to agree upon a two-year deal so the Tax Increase Prevention Act will extend 55 different tax credits and extensions through 2015.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) – who also serves as chairman for Senate Finance Committee – was critical of Congress for not passing the legislation sooner citing it does not provide “nearly enough time for the important provisions in this package to catalyze growth among businesses or to support families in a meaningful way. It’s not enough time to put a dent in veterans’ unemployment, to start a clean energy project and hire new workers, or to help a student who’s on the fence about whether to enroll in college next semester.”

Both of Iowa’s senator’s – Chuck Grassley (R) and the retiring Tom Harkin (D) – signed the legislation though Grassley also expressed disapproval with its “last minute approach.” With Republicans taking control of the senate for the upcoming session, Grassley said “My only hope is that in the new Congress we can make strides toward putting some certainty back in the tax code.”

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation later this week.

Iowa farm hosting Bio-Renewables Field Day

Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)
Iowa State agronomy researcher Emily Heaton (left, red shirt) introduces congressional staffers to biomass crop miscanthus. (CenUSA Bioenergy/Flickr)

A tall perennial grass called miscanthus may be the future of bioenergy in Iowa, and an upcoming event is highlighting its unique potential.

Iowa State University assistant professor of agronmy Emily Heaton and Iowa City landowner Dan Black will speak at a field day and seminar on Wednesday, September 10, to discuss their findings regarding miscanthus, which is currently being explored as a potential biomass crop in experimental fields.

The event will take place at the University of Iowa miscanthus test plot and is hosted by Iowa Learning Farms, the second in a series of four field days that will cover innovations in Iowa agriculture. The event includes a meal prepared by Johnson County Cattlemen and features Ben Anderson, power plant manager at the University of Iowa, who will talk about how miscanthus could be used in the UI power plant’s solid fuel boilers.

Researchers working with a non-invasive hybrid of miscanthus have so far observed a high success rate in surviving Iowa winters, which is necessary for it to reach peak production in its third year. This means the plant could play a major role in Iowa agriculture as a source of biomass that can be converted into energy. It can grow alongside existing crops and in sections of fields that usually produce lower yields for corn, meaning it could also help reduce runoff and preserve water quality.

RSVPs are being accepted until September 5 by calling (515) 294-8912 or by emailing For more information, visit

Purdue University study finds improved profitability, sustainability in cover crop technique

Nick Fetty | August 5, 2014
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)
Shredded corn stover. (Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center/Flickr)

Farmers who use cover crops as a means of soil conservation can produce higher yields of corn stover which leads to increased profits, according to a recent study by researchers at Purdue University.

Cover crops such as crimson clover or annual ryegrass help to “blanket the soil” which allows farmers to sustainably yield an additional 1.8 tons of stover per acre compared to traditional methods, the research finds. This stover can then be used to produce biofuels among other uses. One study suggests that corn stover can “supply as much as 25 percent of the biofuel crop needed by 2030.” However, over-harvesting of corn stover has been known to strip the soil of important nutrients.

Cover crops not only help to produce biomass through corn stover but also have benefits for the soil including reduced erosion even in no-till soil, reduced nitrate leaching, increased soil organic matter, improved soil health, quality, and productivity, as well as fewer winter annual and early season weeds. These techniques can be beneficial for both corn-corn and corn-soybean crop rotations.

The study was a collaboration between researchers at the Purdue Extension as well as Praxic, an Ames, Iowa-based software company. To learn more about corn stover in Iowa, check out the 2013 Iowa Corn Sustainable Corn Stover Harvest guide.

Iowa State University researchers find new potential in miscanthus

Nick Fetty | July 29, 2014
A miscanthus field in Japan. Photo via Wikipedia
A miscanthus field in Japan.
Photo via Wikipedia

Researchers at Iowa State University have discovered that Iowa’s soil may help miscanthus – a perennial tall grass – to produce higher yields of biomass than once thought.

Iowa State Agronomists think that this Asian plant will not only provide a source for biomass energy but will also help to protect the environment. The study focused specifically on miscanthus x giganteus, “a sterile hybrid of the plant that cannot reproduce from seed and spreads slowly.”

The study found that this hybrid plant has a low mortality rate even in Iowa’s harsh winters. Agronomists also found that crop yields in the second year were similar to yields in the third year, which is when the plant generally hits its peak production. The full report was published in June in the journal Industrial Crops and Products and additional information about biomass production from miscanthus is also available through the ISU Department of Agronomy.

The University of Iowa has utilized the plant as part of its Biomass Fuel Project which aims to achieve 40 percent renewable energy by 2020. In 2013, 16 acres of miscanthus were planted in Muscatine County and earlier this year an additional 15 acres were planted just south of Iowa City.

UI uses dying Johnson County trees as biofuel

Garlic mustard is one of the invasive plants affecting the Johnson County trees. Photo by eLeSeA, Flickr.
Garlic mustard is one of the invasive plants affecting the Johnson County trees. Photo by eLeSeA, Flickr.

The University of Iowa will use 24 acres of dead and dying trees in Johnson County as biofuel.

The trees are dying because of invasive species like garlic mustard, exotic honeysuckles and Canada thistles.

Once the trees are removed and the invasive plants are cleared, the land will be converted into a prairie.

Read more from The Gazette here.

Video: Biomass Partnership Project

Ferman Milster, principal engineer of renewables at the University of Iowa, discusses the contributors to the University’s Biomass Parntership Project.

He also gives some updates on obtaining wood chips and establishing miscanthus for fuel.

For more information, check out the Sustainability at Iowa website.

ISU assistant professor works to turn leftover harvest material into biomass

Photo by tricky (rick harrison), Flickr.

Laura Jarboe, an Iowa State University assistant professor of chemical and biochemical engineering, is working on developing a way to turn leftover material from farmers’ harvests into biomass. These materials include corn stover and waterway switchgrass.

The biomass can then be converted into biofuels and chemicals.

Jarobe and her team are currently working on fine-tuning this technology.

Read more here.

UI tests new biomass sources

Miscanthus. Photo by Mollivan Jon, Flickr.

As previously covered on this blog, the University of Iowa uses oat hulls as biomass in order to reduce their use of coal. The University of Iowa is now looking to expand their use of biomass by using new sources.

UI has already tested seed corn, saw dust and greenwood energy pellets. There’s also a possibility that the university will use locally grown miscanthus — a plant similar to sugarcane. In fact, UI has contracted with a Muscatine County farmer to plant about 15 acres of miscanthus this spring.

The larger goal is to produce 40 percent of UI’s energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Read more here.

On the Radio: University of Iowa utilizes biomass for energy needs

Oat hulls are used as an alternative fuel source.

Listen to this week’s radio segment here or read the transcript below. This week’s episode highlights the University of Iowa’s efforts to utilize biomass as an alternative fuel source.

By using biomass, the University of Iowa has lowered greenhouse gas emissions, reduced fuel costs and gained recognition.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

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