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UI student group looks to eliminate coal

BY ERIC MOORE | OCTOBER 03, 2011 7:20 AM

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The University of Iowa consumes almost 500 tons of coal each day.

And UI junior Zach Carter wants to change that.

After attending the alternative-energy event Power Shift 2011 in Washington, D.C., last spring, Carter started the UI Sierra Student Coalition this fall, in hopes of pushing for the university to shift its energy production away from coal and other fossil fuels to biomass.

Carter said he believes his organization influenced a portion of the UI's Vision 2020 plan , which aims to reach 40 percent biomass by 2020.

Carter and six other UI students left Sept. 30 and returned Sunday for a "Coal to Clean Energy Tour," in which they attended coal mines and waste-slurry impoundments — which he said looked like landfills or "big swimming pools" of waste.

The tour through parts of central Illinois also took the group to local farms and farmers negatively affected by coal production. He said farms are purchased for use by coal companies and are no longer usable for farming because of production waste.

"Meeting some of these people can really put two and two together," Carter said. "Some of these farms were century farms. Now they're just junk … making that human connection really puts a face on it."

Liz Christiansen, the director of the UI Office of Sustainability, said the movement away from coal "is building on UI's history of keeping biomass as a renewable energy."

She said the UI has had a 9 percent energy reduction since efforts involving alternative energy began in 2003, and the UI has had a "leadership role" in conserving and building renewable energy.

"We want to grow that as well as the use of geothermal, and solar, and wind, and landfill gas, and maybe some other emerging energy alternatives," Christiansen said. "[The] vision of the Power Plant is to be 100 percent renewable."

Ferman Milster, an associate director of utilities engineering at UI Facilities Management, said the UI Power Plant will have to reduce coal consumption by two-thirds to reach the 40 percent goal.

Milster said it will take 100,000 dry tons of woody biomass a year to work toward the goal, which officials plan to collect within a 50-mile radius of Iowa City.

"There are sustainability issues in how we get that much biomass. We don't want to interfere with corn and bean production," Milster said. "We want to do it in a manner, a sustainable manner that enhances the local economy and improves the land quality."

He also said the plant has two fuel boilers that burn mostly coal but are capable of burning solid fuel.
"[They're] designed for coal, so there's a lot of work to do in order to figure out technically," Milster said.

Carter said one step toward changing to biomass is a plan for a new conveyer system for the Power Plant, which will cost $12 million and begin construction in 2012.

He said he is confident about the group's campaign to shift from coal-based energy to renewable energy and biomass.

"We re-energized this campaign this summer, and it's only getting bigger from here," Carter said. "It's beyond coal, and we're pushing trying to push the university to move beyond coal 100 percent."

The Sierra Student Coalition plans to hold several more events this fall to spread awareness about the negative aspects of coal production.


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