Aiming for Zero
MU’s campus power generation system has transformed itself into a lean, green electric machine.
The first Mizzou power plant began heating and powering campus in 1892. During the first century of an electrified university, considerable effort went toward generating ever-increasing amounts
of energy, but less focus was given to how efficiently that power was used in campus buildings.
In 1990, however, campus leaders decided that energy was too important — and too expensive — to waste. They established a formalized energy conservation program. It started small, with swapping out inefficient light bulbs and fixtures for their high-efficiency counterparts. Then it expanded to upgraded heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.
Each improvement reduced energy use for that year and every year thereafter, creating a cumulative effect that built rapidly over time. Eventually, the annual energy savings were more than enough to pay for the next year’s upgrades.
The first 25 years of the program saved $71.2 million worth of energy. The decreased energy demand also has delayed the need to invest in additional generating capacity. The combined cost avoidance and energy savings now amounts to $8.9 million annually. That translates to $254 per student.
Mizzou has reduced its energy use by 20 percent per square foot since 1990. The university now uses less energy than any of its peer institutions and 31 percent less than the average comparable university as reported by the independent benchmarking company Sightlines.
By 2008, the focus was back on power generation. At the time, the MU Power Plant generated fully 95 percent of its electricity from coal. Even when the plant bought energy from outside, which was about a quarter of the time, 81 percent of it was coal-derived. “It was clear we needed to change our paradigm,” says Ken Davis, energy management assistant director who heads up power plant operations.
Once again, Mizzou plotted a sustainability overhaul. In 2009, the campus joined the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions involved in heating, cooling and powering campus offices and classrooms. Mizzou has since added specific targets to that commitment, pledging in 2015 to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, halfway to our goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Since then, Mizzou has invested in a wind turbine, photovoltaic solar panels, water-heating solar-thermal technology and, most prominently, the first large-scale biomass boiler in the state. It has also made wind energy a much bigger component of the outsourced electricity it purchases.
Today, coal makes up only 37 percent of the energy production on campus. Natural gas is 43 percent, and renewable biomass is 20 percent. Using sustainably resourced biomass, Mizzou now generates more renewable energy on its campus than any other university in the country and has cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent.
Vigilance is the watchword moving forward — always looking for new and better ways to generate and use energy more efficiently.
“Our conservation program is continuously evolving as technology evolves,” Davis says. “If you’d asked me a few years ago if we were done upgrading lighting, I would have said yes. But now with newer LED lighting technologies, we’re installing even more efficient lighting.”
The journey to biomass as a primary fuel for the plant began in 2008 when the university decided to decommission an aging coal-fired boiler. Extensive research and a desire to move away from fossil fuels led the university to choose a biomass-fed boiler design with a bubbling-fluidized-bed. The $75 million mammoth came online in late 2012 and took about a year to reach full generation capacity. It consumes 100,000 tons of regionally and sustainably sourced wood residues each year.
Solar panels line the rooftop of both the MU Power Plant and MU Research Reactor. The power plant has 144 panels (enough to power four homes), and the research reactor has 10 panels. Installed in 2012, the panel arrays help meet MU power needs, and they serve as demonstration projects for students and faculty to learn firsthand how to apply solar technology in Missouri.
Mizzou’s power plant is a combined cooling, heat and power system. The boilers produce steam, some of which powers the electric turbine and some of which is piped to campus to heat buildings. Most of this steam condenses to water and returns to the plant, but some is lost. The lost steam must be replaced with new water. In 2014, Mizzou installed nearly 500 solar thermal rods that capture the heat of the sun to warm the make-up water, reducing reliance on the boilers.
Installed in 2012 at Stadium Boulevard and Champions Drive, Mizzou’s 98-foot wind turbine generates up to 20,000 watts of electricity, enough to power two-and-a-half homes. Similar to the solar panel arrays, the generation capacity is limited, but the educational capacity is great. The pole is hinged, meaning that the entire tower can be lowered to the ground for student tours and maintenance.
Fueling the Future
Moving people and goods around is a dirty business. Transportation accounts for 27 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Most of that is from carbon dioxide released by cars and trucks.
In response, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the EV Everywhere challenge, in 2012, to spur the country’s electric vehicle industry, cut pollution and reduce reliance on oil. The challenge is to make electric cars as affordable in 2022 as gas cars were in 2012.
Mizzou is answering that challenge.
Last fall, the program awarded MU Engineering Professor Yangchuan “Chad” Xing a three-year, $2.2 million grant to design an improved method for producing materials for lithium-ion batteries — the same batteries that power laptops and smart phones. Mizzou was the only academic institution to receive a grant in materials manufacturing.
One shortcoming of current batteries is that manufacturing them is water intensive. The batteries work by passing electrons between two components — the cathode and anode — that have opposite electric charges. The cathode is typically made of metal oxide. The anode is typically made of graphite.
Traditionally, manufacturing metal oxide calls for dissolving salt precursors in purified water to create a slurry, which is then converted to metal oxide, filtered and baked at high temperature until dry. In contrast, Xing’s process uses biomass to dissolve the precursors, which are then burned in a high-temperature flame, producing a dry, useable powder. Eliminating water as an input reduces cost and makes the process easier to scale, which further lowers costs.
“The important point is not just that it’s cheaper,” Xing says. “Water is a big thing these days. [The traditional process] is going to waste millions of tons of water.”
Xing’s five-year goal is to develop a product that outperforms current batteries at half the cost.
Counting More Chickens
Leon Schumacher’s 2010 U.S. Department of Energy grant was intended to improve the energy efficiency of Missouri’s dairy, swine and poultry farmers. He suspected he could help farmers raise better poultry as well, but when he looked at the data, his eyes popped.
As part of the three-year grant, Schumacher, professor of agricultural systems management, and Brian Robertson, instructor of agricultural systems management, conducted 254 farm energy audits. The 153 qualifying farms received better insulation, better-sealing doors, new attic ventilation systems, dimmable LED lighting and other upgrades.
Sure enough, the upgrades cut average energy costs by 20 to 35 percent.
But after the grant was done, when he was looking at what the farms produced before and after the upgrades, Schumacher saw that the efficiency improvements weren’t just cutting costs; they were boosting revenue.
Better insulation in the poultry barns kept the hot summer air out. Better ventilation, especially in the attic, kept the inside air moving. All of this meant that the barns had less ammonia in the air, which had a dramatic effect on the chickens’ health. The birds ate the same amount of feed but reached market weight a full week sooner than usual. Death from disease dropped from 5 percent to 2 percent.
Americans love chicken. In the U.S., more poultry is eaten than either beef or pork (though not all red meat put together), and Missouri is a leading chicken producer, growing nearly 450 million chickens per year, the seventh-most in the nation.
But profit margins in the poultry business are slim. By shortening the growth cycles from eight weeks to seven, farmers can fit an extra cycle in each year. And with more birds from each cycle making it to market, an average poultry farmer could potentially increase annual production from 900,000 to 1 million birds, all while cutting the energy bill by 20 percent.