Dying trees to be used for biomass

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Posted: Friday, January 18, 2013 12:00 am

TIFFIN -- The University of Iowa is trying to meet its alternative energy goals with the help of 24 acres of dead and dying pine trees in Johnson County.

The university's sustainability office has hired a contractor to cut and grind the invasive species-infested trees found mostly at F.W. Kent Park near Tiffin, so it can be converted into biomass.

That biomass then will be burned with coal in the university's steam-generating boilers.

The contractor expects to be done clearing and harvesting the trees by the end of January. The university wants to use the trees to close a gap in its goal to meet 40 percent of the institution's energy needs through sustainable sources by 2020.

Johnson County officials said there was little money available to handle the

environmental nightmare. And once the invasive plants are subdued, the deal will let the county's conservation department return the area to its original


"Collaboration is enabling

us to make the best of a bad situation," said Harry Graves, director of the Johnson County Conservation


The trees, which were planted in the 1960s and '70s, are dying faster than they can be removed. Graves said they emphasize how important it is to plant species native to their specific area. Now, invasive species like garlic mustard, exotic honeysuckles and Canada thistles could turn the ruined trees environmentally hostile.

"We have literally thousands of trees dying in Kent Park right now," said Dave Wehde, the department's natural resources manager. "They are pretty much an eyesore and a fire hazard."

The pine trees will yield about 1,800 tons of biomass when combined with some cedar trees and black locust trees growing at a nearby preserve.

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