IC Press-Citizen: UI officials tout renewable energy
October 03, 2011
By Tara Bannow, Iowa City Press-Citizen
Renewable energy might seem like a concept pioneered within the past decade, but more than 100 years ago, it was a way of life.
"Everything was done with horses; the renewable energy was hay," said Steve Weeber, board chairman of the Johnson County Historical Society. "Renewable is not a new idea."
That was the overarching message of the Historical Society's annual meeting, held Sunday afternoon at Weeber's picturesque country farm.
Univer-sity of Iowa Executive Vice President and Provost Barry Butler described the long history of windmills, starting with the first wind turbines in A.D. 550 in Persia.
Using hybrid cars from the early 1900s as an example, Butler emphasized the importance of having a sustainable business model when it comes to renewable energy.
"They were super technologically advanced but didn't go anywhere because they couldn't sell them," he said.
The U.S. has enough wind turbines to generate 42,000 megawatts of energy -- enough to power 14 million homes -- but it's only at 2 percent capacity, Butler said.
Iowa is the nation's second-highest wind producer beneath Texas. It's located within an oval-shaped corridor in the middle of the U.S. that's the most promising for wind production.
The problem with that, however, is that the major population centers aren't located in that corridor, so transporting energy becomes vital, Butler said.
Butler was preceded by Ferman Millster, UI's director of renewable energy, who talked about plans to reach 40 percent renewable energy consumption on campus by 2020.
The vast portion of Millster's speech focused on biomass, which is the process of using plant matter to generate energy. UI is well positioned to generate power from biomass, he said, because of its multi-million-dollar investment in biomass boilers, which burn wood chips to produce steam and hot water.
There are a variety of potential biomass sources that can be grown quickly, Millster said, including invasive species, industrial by-products and wood waste from landfills. He noted the importance of energy crops not competing with food crops.
Millster said UI also is looking toward using its boilers to burn coal and wood. He said there is enough forest within 50 miles of Iowa City to fuel the UI's boilers for 1,000 years. If that did become a strategy, he said UI would work with other groups to reduce the likelihood of a negative environmental impact.
Currently, the vast majority of UI's energy sources -- coal, natural gas and electric power -- are shipped in from outside the local area. An important factor in reducing energy consumption lies in getting those materials locally, Millster said, an example of which might be waste from the Iowa City Landfill. Decayed garbage forms methane, which can be extracted, cleaned and transported to create heat and electricity.
SOURCE: Iowa City Press-Citizen. Please click here for the originial story.