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June 24, 2010 Volume 31, No. 32

EPA is fired up about Mizzou’s energy-efficient power plant

It has burned corncobs, used tires, waste wood and switchgrass, all in an effort to keep people comfortable. With a capacity of producing up to 

66 megawatts of electricity and 1.1 million pounds of steam per hour, the University of Missouri’s Power Plant is responsible for supplying energy and cooling and heating for buildings that total more than
13 million square feet, including three hospitals, the research reactor and several research facilities.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognized the power plant with a 2010 EPA Energy Star Combined Heat and Power (CHP) award recipient, making it one of only three universities in the nation recently recognized with the honor.

“MU is very proud of Energy Management’s track record of improving campus energy efficiency while reducing energy costs and lowering emissions,” says Gary Ward, associate vice chancellor, Campus Facilities. “We are looking forward to adding a new biomass boiler to our CHP system in 2012 to build on the success we have already achieved.”

The EPA award recognized those power plants that produced energy efficiently while decreasing air pollution. MU’s operating efficiency is more than 70 percent, compared to conventional fossil-fueled power plants, which are only about 30 percent efficient, according to the EPA. Other universities recognized at this time were the University of California in San Diego and Fairfield University, located in Fairfield, Conn.

“Combined heat and power is an efficient, clean and reliable approach to generating power and thermal energy from a single fuel source,” says Susan Wickwire, chief of the EPA’s energy supply and industry branch. “CHP plays an important role in reducing the environmental impact of power generation. We applaud the University of Missouri’s effort because the improvement in efficiency translates to a reduction in total fossil fuel use, reduced emissions of air pollutants and carbon dioxide, the leading greenhouse gas contributor to global climate change.”

MU has been producing heat and electricity using combined heat and power since 1892. The system uses nearly 38 percent less fuel than typical systems using onsite thermal generation with purchased electricity. MU’s system also reduces carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 107,000 tons per year. This reduction is equivalent to the annual emissions from more than 17,900 passenger vehicles.

MU is recognized as a national leader in energy efficiency and conservation, reducing energy usage by
10 percent per square foot and greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent per square foot since 1990. Over the past 20 years, MU has saved an average of $6.6 million annually. 

Power Plant staff work directly with researchers to search for alternative fuels and more efficient means to heat, cool and power the campus. Currently, MU’s forestry department is helping develop specifications for fuel for the biomass boiler to ensure the health and value of Missouri’s forests, while other forestry faculty are exploring the feasibility of growing woody biomass to use in the power plant.