The University of Iowa

The city run by biomass- a look at sustainability in the Czech Republic

June 18th, 2014

By Kelsey Morfitt*

Today I finished my Responding to Climate Change course. I took a final exam, turned in an 8-page paper and presented on the paper with PowerPoint.  Whew.  All done.  When I passed around Belgium waffle cookies and chocolate crisps after we (all 2 of us students) turned everything in and completed our presentations, the professor said, “I hope this is not corruption.”

packets of cookies and chocolate

“No, it’s just because I traveled to Belgium last weekend, but if it helps us both get A’s then that’s OK.”  We’ll see; after two exams we each have about a B, so hopefully the papers & presentations will help bump our grades up.  And if that doesn’t work, world-renowned chocolate can’t hurt. ;)

It was a nice class that allowed room for discussion versus solely lecture.  Our professor is a climate change research expert who works for Glopolis, a Czech and EU think tank/nonprofit organization that provides up-to-date information about climate change and cultures suffering from poverty as a result of more extreme weather events, etc. We also had one T.A. from Florida who received a federal grant to study Czech here.  Her American-English translation was helpful when the Czech-accent/British-English wasn’t quite making sense.

Here's a great YouTube video we watched in class about Practical Action (UK nonprofit organization) helping locals in developing countries to generate electricity, build wells higher to prevent water contamination in flooding, how to capture rainfall in arid climates, and so much more.

I’m not advocating for one thing or another here, but these videos are just more food for thought.

Speaking of food, on a field trip we visited the town of Knezice in the Czech Republic.  It was an all-day field trip for my Responding to Climate Change class and the Global Food Challenge class. 

sign for town in Czech

Welcome to Knezice!

Knezice is a self-sufficient community that runs on biomass waste.  Instead of a wastewater treatment plant, the community’s food waste, agricultural waste, human and animal waste, etc. is sent to the community’s biomass plant to ferment and the gas is captured to create electricity.  Also, the plant produces heating by converting compost into a liquid that can be piped to homes for heating.

two guys and a bike outside a gate

Entrance to the plant

It was a stinky field trip but very cool.  The best part was when the mayor arrived on a bicycle to give us a tour of the biomass plant.  I was the only one in a skirt-- dressed up to meet the mayor. :)

*Kelsey Morfitt, of North Liberty, Iowa, is a UI graduate student pursuing her M.S. in Urban and Regional Planning. She is currently studying abroad on the USAC program in Prague, Czech Republic.