University launches grass project to produce fuel

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) - The University of Iowa is experimenting with the growing of miscanthus, a grass native to Asia that has a variety of uses, including animal bedding, liquid biofuels and combustion for electricity.

The school on Wednesday planted 15 acres on a farm south of Iowa City. The grass will be part of the school’s biomass fuel project, which aims to achieve 40 percent renewable energy by 2020, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported (http://icp-c.com/1uFoEVX ).

The school will follow the progress of the perennial grass, and potentially plant an additional 2,500 acres by 2016. UI expects to eventually produce up to 25,000 tons per year of biomass fuel through the grass.

Giant miscanthus is a warm-season grass native known for its high yields. It grows from 8 to 12 feet tall.

Officials hope to co-fire miscanthus with coal and burn it in the university power plant as part of an effort to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.

Ferman Milster, principal engineer of renewables at the University of Iowa’s Office of Sustainability, said miscanthus can be good for Iowa farmers, because it can help cut down on soil erosion and nutrient runoff.

“Soil and solar are two natural resources we have,” Milster said about Iowa’s conditions for growing miscanthus. “All we have to do is employ them to get our energy.”

Miscanthus has to be planted only once and can last up to 30 years.

“You grow it here, cut it here and use it here,” said Michele Dunn, a communications specialist with Repreve Renewal, a North Carolina company that will work with UI in harvesting the grass and feeding it into the power plant. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”

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Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, http://www.press-citizen.com/

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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