- Associated Press - Monday, May 16, 2016

WASHBURN, Iowa (AP) - A group of University of Northern Iowa researchers and Black Hawk County conservationists have cultivated about 100 acres of prairie grass in the hopes of burning it for fuel.

The “Prairie Power” project located within the Black Hawk County Natural Resource Area, southeast of Washburn, has reintroduced plants and wildlife not seen in the area for some time, The Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (https://bit.ly/1Xu90Mf ) reported.

The project is funded by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and is a product of the university’s Tallgrass Prairie Center, which was founded more than 40 years ago by recently retired biology professor Daryl Smith.

The research shows that the grasses have brought two to three times as many species of birds as well as wild turkey, fox, deer and coyote.

“If you build it, they will come,” said Vern Fish, executive director of the Black Hawk County Conservation Board.

Researchers are also studying the prairie grasses’ benefits in decreasing soil erosion and water pollution from nutrients washing into rivers and streams.

They’re trying to find a market for the prairie grass as fuel, but selling it as a fuel source is difficult with natural gas prices so low.

A test burn at Cedar Falls Utilities’ Streeter Station power plant in 2013 yielded positive results.

“Combustion of the prairie biomass yielded about 57 percent of the energy value of coal; however stack emissions, air pollutants and the potential for slagging and fouling were lower,” a project report said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t defined any variety of prairie grass as a renewable fuel source, which somewhat thwarts local researchers’ efforts.

“We proved in the test burn this stuff works well as a heating fuel or an energy-production fuel,” said Eric Giddens, a researcher at the university. “So now we just need to develop a market for it. It’s a challenge, but we’re working on it.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com


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