The University of Iowa’s power plant has been burning oat hulls, a byproduct of cereal-making at the Quaker plant in Cedar Rapids, since 2002.
In a discussion on Wednesday with Ferman Milster, the university’s associate director of utilities and energy management, Milster was asked about burning biomass materials like oat hulls for power and what the future might hold for such examples of renewable energy.
He was informed, too, that some community leaders in Cedar Rapids have pitched a proposal to Iowa’s congressional delegation for a huge federal grant that would pay to build a new biomass energy plant in downtown Cedar Rapids. City Hall, Alliant Energy, the downtown and nearby industries have been trying to figure out how to replace Alliant Energy’s flood-damaged Sixth Street power plant, which had provided low-cost steam.
In his comments, Milster couldn’t have been more excited about the future of burning biomass materials or more thrilled about the pursuit of a new biomass plant in downtown Cedar Rapids.
He said the current state of climate awareness and the current federal administration’s awareness of the issue will mean an increased emphasis on all kinds of renewable energy.
“You’re going to see a biomass fuel market develop,” Milster said. “And oat hulls will be a piece of that, an important piece.
“But there are numerous other sources that are byproducts of industrial production of some form. … And we (at the university) have been very, very active in identifying other sources of biomass. We have a laundry list of those.”
He said his power plant at the University of Iowa is readying to experiment burning corn cobs.
“Biomass fuel combustion is going to gain popularity,” he said. “The economics are going to start to favor it as we start to regulate carbon emissions. If the federal government regulates carbon emissions, that radically increases the value of biomass fuel.”
As for the idea of a biomass power plant in downtown Cedar Rapids, Milster suggested that the city may have a “perfect storm” in place to make such an idea work.
He noted that Cedar Rapids has an existing steam distribution system that serves the downtown and nearby industries. There’s a year-round need for power that a plant would produce. And the city, an agriculture-processing center, has multiple sources of renewable energy.
“A new district energy plant – a combined heat and power plant – is the ideal thing,” Milster said. “It just makes perfect sense. And you could make all renewable energy.
“Wow. What a claim to fame for Cedar Rapids to come out of the flood with a renewable energy plant and a district energy system. That’s super.”