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"Greening" the ORNL Campus


The refurbished steam plant will be fueled by wood chips instead of natural gas and heating oil.
The refurbished steam plant will be fueled by wood chips instead of natural gas and heating oil.

Since the 1950s, most buildings on ORNL's main campus have been heated or cooled by the centrally located steam plant. To produce steam, the plant has long burned fossil fuels—initially coal and then natural gas and heating oil. ORNL will soon switch to biofuel in the form of wood chips. This transition will produce steam while reducing spiraling energy costs and unwanted carbon dioxide emissions.

The Department of Energy has signed an $89 million energy saving service contract with Johnson Controls, based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to upgrade ORNL's antiquated steam plant. Under the contract, the energy savings of $8.7 million annually over the next 18 years will go to Johnson Controls to pay for the work. After 18 years, the savings will go toward reducing ORNL's fuel consumption bills.

DOE has mandated a reduction of energy consumption by 30% and water consumption by 16% at its facilities by October 2009. At ORNL, the new system and other improvements are expected to reduce energy consumption by 50%, water usage by 23% and fossil fuel consumption by more than 80%. The resulting slowdown in the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide is the equivalent of pulling 2.1 million cars off the road.

Johnson Controls' major project at ORNL involves refurbishing the old steam plant so that it can heat and gasify wood chips. The hot gas driven from the biofuel will heat water to make steam.

ORNL will contract with area biomass suppliers to obtain waste wood products from within a 50-mile radius of the Laboratory. Waste wood might be refuse from pallet manufacturers and tree bark from timber mills. Johnson Controls will build a structure near the steam plant to dry the delivered wood chips.

Less water will be used largely because the long steam line from the steam plant to the High Flux Isotope Reactor and other buildings in Melton Valley will be eliminated. A new structure will be built in this complex to house a new Cleaver Brook super boiler that will supply steam to the buildings nearby.

The Laboratory is once again tapping another renewable energy resource—sunlight—to power Building 3147 where research on energy-efficient technologies for buildings is conducted. In August, Lightwave Solar Electric of Nashville began installation of a 288-ft.-long by 10-ft.-wide array of solar collectors made by SunPower. The solar cells convert 18.7% of sunlight's energy into electricity, generating more than 50 kilowatts at peak power. By comparison, the array of solar cells near ORNL's visitor center operates at 13% efficiency.


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