Project briefing paper (PDF)
Real-time UAF heat and power plant data
FY15 budget information
The Atkinson Heat and Power Plant was built five decades ago. Its main boilers were built in 1962 and came online in 1964. The plant has two auxiliary boilers, one that burns oil and one that burns both oil and gas. The plant supplies electricity, heating and cooling to more than 3 million square feet of UAF facilities. The cogeneration approach was, and still is, the most efficient way to use fuel because the combustion process creates two products: heat and electricity. Despite excellent maintenance, the main boilers are nearing the end of their useful life.
Combined heat and power is an efficient and clean approach to generating electric power and heat from a single fuel source. Instead of purchasing electricity from the distribution grid and burning fuel in an on-site furnace or boiler to produce heat, an industrial or commercial facility can use combined heat and power to provide both products as part of one combustion process. At the UAF plant, fuel is burned to create steam, which both heats and cools campus and spins turbines to create electricity.
Yes. There are more than 500 schools, colleges and universities with combined heat and power plants, including Auburn University, Colorado State University, Iowa State University and Northern Arizona. They use a variety of fuels, including biomass, coal, natural gas, oil, waste and wood.
The main boilers are at the end of their useful life, and the risk of catastrophic failure is ever-present: The network of pipes that run inside our aging boilers has failed at single points before. In the 1990s, a section of the continually thinning pipe wall finally gave way, filling the plant with steam and nearly freezing campus. The plant, in its current form, represents an enormous financial and capital risk to the university and the state. A catastrophic failure could mean up to $1 billion in damage to university assets and pose a safety risk to students, staff and faculty.
We plan to replace our main boilers, which use 1890s stoker technology, with a circulating fluidized bed boiler, or CFB. This technology can burn multiple types of solid fuel that which is mixed with limestone. Large amounts of air flow through the boiler, and the fuel burns while moving fluidly in midair. This technology is more efficient -- it uses less fuel to create the same amount of heat and power -- and has lower emissions than the current plant.
Yes. We have been looking for the best option for many years. Most recently, we analyzed the feasibility of more than a dozen options, including solar, wind, purchased hydroelectric power, small nuclear plants and a variety of new, untested technologies like gasifiers and internal combustion engines. In the end, the CFB was the best fit for our available fuel and our heat and power needs.
We plan to retrofit our second oil boiler to burn gas and keep both boilers as backup.
The solution is not as simple as tapping into the local electrical grid, because the campus would still be without heat. We could fire up our two backup diesel boilers, but the increased cost of fuel would swiftly decimate the university’s budget.
We did examine both the operating and fuel costs of a gas option. It costs less to build a gas plant; however, gas is a more expensive fuel than coal. All our models are just that -- models -- because there is currently not a reliable source of gas. Using today’s prices, our fuel costs with the new boiler would be about $5.3 million each year. Fuel costs at current gas prices would be about $20 million a year. Until a low-cost, reliable supply of gas becomes a reality in Fairbanks, a gas option is not viable.
The new boiler is just one part of a diversified energy portfolio at UAF. In addition to the solid fuel boiler -- which will burn coal and about 15 percent biomass -- we are planning to purchase wind or other renewable power when it’s available, and are already investing in small, on-campus solar projects.
Conservation has long been a part of our energy management strategy at UAF. We use waste heat in our air-exchange systems and use energy-efficient bulbs in our lights. Our design standards exceed industry standards for energy efficiency, and we are in the process of converting chilling systems in West Ridge buildings to make the best use of our district cooling system. Most recently, we launched an energy-efficiency audit and upgrade program that is expected to save about $500,000 per year.
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