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UI Grows Closer to Energy Goal

IOWA CITY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- In just six years, the University of Iowa wants to source 40 percent of its energy from green, renewable sources.

On Wednesday, the Office of Sustainability took one small step closer to that goal by planting 15 acres of biomass fuel: a plant called miscanthus.

"Take sunshine, grow plants, which we've got lots of ... and now let's grow our own fuel," said Ferman Milster, the principal engineer for renewables through the Office of Sustainability.

The 15 acres planted this week is a continuation of a pilot project started last year. And while the numbers seem small, by 2016, the university plans to have 2,500 acres of biomass planted.

The miscanthus that is harvested will be mixed with coal and fired in a coal plant, just like any other fossil fuel. It is a little less efficient, but it is a much more sustainable fuel, Milster said.

And it can go a long way toward job creation. Right now, Iowa has no coal mining, oil wells or natural gas wells.

"So all the money that Iowa spends on fossil fuel has to come from outside the state, that money leaves the state. This is an effort to begin to get our energy locally from the agriculture economy," Milster said.

New ways to harvest the crop, transport it, and burn it can all be created. Repreve Renewables, a North Carolina-based company, is already a part of that chain. They built a tractor to plant specific roots like miscanthus.

"And so it all starts in rural America and there's where the jobs are going to be created. And that's what's truly, truly exciting about it," said Repreve CEO Jeffrey D. Wheeler.

Not to mention, the renewable aspect to the entire project, Wheeler said. The miscanthus plant will regrow itself every year for about 20 years, Milster said.

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