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Going Green While Saving Green: Green Alternatives to Black Oil

University Business, Jun 2006

With the cost of oil on the rise and gas prices through the roof, everyone is looking for ways to cut energy costs. Often, going green takes an upfront investment with the promise of savings down the line, and sometimes it depends on location as much as available technology. Most IHEs have implemented energy-saving policies that cover turning off lights when not in use, and some have gone as far as installing solar panels, but a few are pushing alternative energy to the extreme.

Just as one has to be in a sunny area to make solar energy work, or a windy area for a wind turbine to pay off, sometimes an institution's location can open up new options. Cornell University has been taking advantage of its position on the shores of Cayuga Lake since July 2000 by using Lake Source Cooling for air conditioning on campus. Cold water, drawn from 250 feet deep, travels to a heat exchange facility where it transfers its coldness through solid stainless-steel plates to water that circulates to the campus in a second loop of pipeline.

Although the system cost more upfront than a new standard chiller would have, the energy savings offset the cost. "We had hoped for a 10- to 13-year simple payback originally for the premium associated with Lake Source Cooling," says Lanny Joyce, manager of engineering, planning, and energy management. "We are ahead of that projection due to electricity rising in cost faster than anticipated." LSC saves the campus about 25 million kilowatt-hours per year. Cornell also uses hydropower and cogeneration (where energy from steam is converted to electricity on its way to provide heating to the campus) to produce about 15 percent of its electricity needs.

Not every campus has a big lake nearby, but most schools have a dining service. Professors at James Madison University (Va.) are pursuing the idea of recycling waste vegetable oil (WVO) from campus kitchens into biodiesel for campus vehicles. They have a reactor to produce the biodiesel, and C.J. Brodrick, assistant professor of Integrated Science and Technology, says they have designed a system to collect 16,000 gallons of WVO annually (the campus produces between 7,000 and 10,000 gallons annually).

The program isn't up and running yet, as they are still testing their brew to make sure it won't damage vehicle engines. Currently, fleet vehicles run on B2 (2 percent biodiesel), all of which is purchased from an outside source. But if their homemade product is up to snuff, the university will save a bundle-"upward of $25,000 annually if we process 100 percent of the WVO," predicts Chris Bachman, assistant professor of Integrated Science and Technology.

Biodiesel is popular. Students at the University of Michigan investigated a similar project, estimating savings of $28,000 per year, and Eastern Connecticut State University is piloting a program that uses B20 (20 percent biodiesel) to heat two residence halls. Almost as ubiquitous as cooking oil are landfills and the methane they produce. The University of North Carolina at Asheville is designing its new Craft Campus, scheduled to open in fall 2008, to use the methane from the Yancey County landfill to power kilns, forges, and foundry applications. "Power for kilns, glass furnaces, and forges can be prohibitively expensive, but landfill gas vastly reduces or eliminates the energy costs," says Dan Millspaugh, director of Craft Campus and an art professor. Plans are also in the works to use cogeneration to produce heat and hot water, and the school has erected a wind tower to test the site's potential for wind power.

Landfill gas not only reduces dependency on oil, but also, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, it is the only renewable energy source that, when used, directly prevents atmospheric pollution.

These uses of alternative energy prove that, with a little bit of thinking outside the oil can, IHEs can protect their budgets as well as the environment.


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