Horses used to be called “oat burners” because of the feed that fueled their farm work. Now that old-fashioned term can apply to the modern power system used at the University of Iowa. The university now burns oat hulls from the nearby Quaker Oats plants in one of the power plants it uses to create electricity and heat. Ferman Milster says officials at plant suggested burning the byproduct. He says the hulls are left over from the milling and food processing and the company was looking for a way to get rid of them. Milster says they designed a special boiler that burns 50-percent coal and the rest oat hulls. He says they first tried to mix coal and the oat hulls, but that didn’t work so well. He says they then went to work designing the special boiler. Milster says the oat hulls have an ecological advantage over coal. He says when they burn the plant matter they’re re-releasing carbon dioxide that was already in the atmosphere and doesn’t bring it up from the ground the way burning coal does. Milster says there are other advantages. He says it keeps the dollars locally, so they don’t have to buy more coal or natural gas from out-of-state. And he says it uses about 45-percent of the hulls produced by the Quaker plant. He says they hope to increase the amount of hulls they burn over time. Milster says burning the oat hulls makes sense for the U-of-I, but it probably won’t work for the other two state supported universities because of the cost of transporting the oat hulls. Milster says they saved 500-thousand dollars last year and an increase in the price of coal is expected to save an additional 200-thousand this year.
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