MU Fires Up Biomass Boiler
Gregg Coffin, Power Plant superintendent, expects the biomass boiler to be at full capacity sometime in February. The plant powers and heats more than 13 million square feet of campus buildings. Photo by Rob Hill.
After roughly four years of analysis and design, two years of construction and road closures, more than 150 contractor employees and $75 million of equipment and labor, Gregg Coffin will be happy to see MU’s new biomass boiler operating at full capacity.
“In the course of a project, you’re always excited when you get close to the end,” Coffin, the plant superintendent, says. “It’s a relief to start seeing [contractors] leave and things get finished so we can work our way back to normal.”
He’s almost there.
The lining of the new 85-feet-tall boiler finished curing in late November, which allowed Coffin to start burning biomass gradually. The boiler uses natural gas during its startup phase, but Coffin hopes to be running solely on biomass starting this week.
It’s an incremental process to bring the boiler to full capacity. Workers will add fuel, adjust the oxygen levels to calibrate the burn, then add a little more fuel, recalibrate, and so on. They’ll be making usable energy by the end of the year, but the ramping-up process will likely continue into February. At that point, they’ll test to make sure they’re meeting the capacity, emissions and efficiency standards promised by the manufacturer.
The work is the final phase of a project that started in 2007 when the university decided to replace one of the power plant’s old and increasingly unreliable coal-fired boilers. A design team researched options and found that a biomass boiler, while more expensive to purchase, offered the lowest ownership cost for installation, maintenance, operation and fuel over the equipment’s 30-year lifespan.