Research campuses can reduce carbon emissions and meet climate action goals by using fuel sources with lower carbon emissions.
|Pounds of CO2
per Million Btu
|Grid electricity (high)||550|
|Grid electricity (low)||200|
|Wind, solar, hydroelectric||0|
The following links go to sections that describe how examining fuel sources may fit into your climate action plans.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Information Administration (EIA) Web page on carbon emission and thermal energy factors of various fuels illustrates how small changes in the fuel mix can greatly reduce carbon emissions. Switching fuel sources from coal to natural gas cuts carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 50% for the same energy load. Many campuses are making this switch as part of their climate action plans.
Another important point is the wide variation in carbon emissions from electricity purchased from the power company because of its fuel mix. As a result, purchasing green power has more carbon offset value for research campuses in areas where utilities generate electricity with high emissions.
Considerations for Campus Fuel Sources
Before undertaking an assessment of fuel sources, a research campus should consider the following.
Central Heating Plants
- Does the campus have a central heating plant?
- Is a boiler replacement planned?
- Do you want to reduce your climate impact and carbon footprint?
Fuel source choices for dated central heating plants were based on a variety of factors, but carbon emissions typically were not considered. It is important to evaluate the fuel mix of central heating plants (no matter the age) to determine the best fuel sources and their climate impacts.
Planned Boiler Replacements
Research campuses with plans to update boilers should evaluate new fuel mixes and new technologies. Combined heat and power systems may offer a better solution to meet heating applications and climate action goals.
Reduction of Climate Impact and Carbon Footprint
It is essential to evaluate on-campus combustion emissions, including those from central heating plant combustion, as part of your greenhouse gas inventory. Understanding current fuel sources and system configurations will help you determine opportunities for reduction. If coal is your fuel source, you should consider a different fuel to support your greenhouse gas mitigation plan.
Leading Example: National Renewable Energy Laboratory Renewable Fuel Heating Plant
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, evaluated fuel sources for its central heating plant with an eye toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In 2008, the laboratory contracted to build its Renewable Fuel Heating Plant, which uses wood and forest thinnings from a nearby national forest for fuel.
A private company, Ameresco, financed and built the plant and operates it for NREL. In turn, NREL pays the company the savings from its utility bills for natural gas until the plant is paid for.
The facility saves 41 billion Btu of natural gas annually, preventing 2,200 metric tons of carbon emissions each year. The $3.3 million project saves more than $400,000 each year, generating a simple payback of approximately 25 years.
You can find details about the facility from the NREL fact sheet titled, "Renewable Fuels Heating Plant".
Additional examples of research campuses fuel source projects include:
Cornell University: Has replaced coal combustion with natural gas through a combined heat and power system.
University of Wisconsin: Plans to convert its coal-fired plant to burn a combination of natural gas and biomass to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet climate action goals.
Ball State University: Is undergoing ambitious projects to its convert coal-fired plant to electricity-powered ground-source heat pumps that greatly reduce carbon emissions.
These resources explain the fundamentals of fuel sources:
Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Energy: A brochure published by the EIA. The brochure outlines and explains how combusting various fuel sources affects the climate.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a fact sheet titled, The U.S. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: Fast Facts. It includes the CO2 levels and impacts of various fuel sources.
The EPA published a report titled, Direct Emissions from Stationary Combustion Sources. It provides detailed guidance on how to make greenhouse gas calculations from stationary combustion sources.
EPA Emissions and Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID): Details comprehensive data on the environmental characteristics of grid-produced electric power generated across the United States.
SourceWatch: Monitors coal-fired plants on campuses and reports on many current fuel source conversion projects.
Biomass and Renewable Fuels: A document prepared by NREL discussing the importance and potential of biomass fuels and hydrogen production.