OU to run pilot test on natural gas
By Mayuri Mei Lin, CG News
Ohio University announced last week that for the next five months, the Lausche Heating Plant will run entirely on natural gas rather than coal.
The next five months will act as a test in hopes that the university will be able to run entirely on natural gas. A release by Ohio University estimates that this permanent switch will occur in 2015.
“We expect that we will reduce carbon dioxide by 41 percent, carbon monoxide by 41 percent, sulfur by almost 100 percent, mercury by almost 99 percent, nitrogen dioxides by 75 percent, and particulates by 51 percent.” said Mike Gebeke, Executive Director of Facilities Management.
The reason that natural gas is a viable option for these spring and summer months is due to the low cost of natural gas caused by the previous mild winter.
The release said that Tim Strissel, Director of Energy Management, managed to purchase blocks of natural gas by “hedging”. This has allowed OU to secure about 55 percent of the gas needed over the spring and summer months.
Gebeke said that the remaining amount will be purchased on the open market as needed throughout the summer.
“It is anticipated that the cost during the summer will be lower than the ‘hedged’ amount. This led to the idea that we could burn gas to power the plant over the summer for less than the cost of burning coal,” Gebeke said. This is the first time such an occurrence will be possible at Lausche.
Gebeke also said that this switch will save the university approximately $63,000 over the summer time.
However, obtaining natural gas typically occurs through fracking. Many OU students express concerns about this and urge that the natural gas should not come from sources that use the fracking method. Tyler Barton, a member of OU Students Against Fracking said, “The overall carbon footprint of natural gas from fracking is bigger than coal.”
In response to this concern, Gebeke said, “There is no way of knowing one way or another where the gas comes from right now.”
Strissel said OU has always burned natural gas but that it only accounted for approximately 15 percent of the fuel used. As a result, the natural gas boilers were not being used at full efficiency. The five-month test will have the boilers run near capacity.
“I believe Ohio University will see the price gap of steam plant operation in 100 percent natural gas fuel mode is narrower than previously thought. The plant’s overall electrical cost is much less when only firing natural gas,” said Strissel.
Ohio University officials are also optimistic about the upcoming test. “We are very excited about this project because it will allow the university to not only save money, but also to release significantly less pollutants and greenhouse gasses than we would using coal,” said Katharine Quaranta, Communications Specialist for Ohio University.