Relocated from behind South Hall in 1964, the Central Heating Plant was designed to provide steam service to a growing campus community. A central plant is safer and more economical than if each building had its own boiler. The steam that the plant makes is used to heat water, cook food, run sterilizers, humidifiers, pasteurizers, distillers and clothes dryers, along with its main job of providing heat for the buildings.
Typically we burn coal in the winter due to its normally lower cost and gas in the summer because of the coal boilers' inability to operate at low loads. Fuel oil is our emergency stand-by fuel should the coal or gas supply be interrupted. The plant generates 338 degree steam which travels through several miles of underground pipe to the buildings where it gives up its heat and converts back to water and is pumped back to the plant for reuse. Steam is delivered at 100 psi and is reduced to 5-7 psi for use in the buildings. To prevent corrosion and scale build-up, we monitor water going into the boiler and coming back from the buildings. It is essential to have a good water treatment program to protect the boiler and piping systems.
The ability to fire coal helps keep the average annual fuel bill at $700,000, but it also increases environmental concerns. The DNR issues operating permits based on particulate and sulfur dioxide tests taken near the top of the 163-foot smokestack. We have passed all tests by using low sulfur coal and proper fuel-air mixture. About 250 tons of coal ash must be disposed of according to DNR guidelines; most of which goes on field roads and rural driveways.
Steam at 100 PSI is 338 degrees Fahrenheit and true steam, like air, is invisible and can attain speeds up to 90 MPH as it travels from the heating plant to Johnson Hall. The UWRF heating plant operates 24/7 with a staff of seven.
The original central heating plant was attached to South Hall. The current plant went on-line in 1964 to meet the demands of future campus expansion. Three water tube boilers have the ability to burn coal, natural gas or fuel oil. In the spirit of sustainability, renewable fuel sources, such as compressed wood chips or grasses, are being examined to possibly replace the 3,700 tons of coal that would normally burn during the winter. Fuel cost for coal and gas is currently running about $750,000 per year and rising, making locally grown grass or wood a good fuel choice.
Anyone who is interested in taking a walk through the heating plant is invited, simply call ext. 3955 to set up a tour.