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Duke Starts New Era Without Coal

Duke steam plants now use only natural gas and oil

West Steam Plant Off Coal_web_V.jpg
The location where Duke's coal pile once stood will now be used for Duke's expanding health system.

Duke's famous coal pile is no more. The pile, which once stood high above the top of its giant containment area on Coal Pile Drive, hasn't been replenished by rail car since February 2009. There was a complete stop to coal deliveries this past February.On April 14,  Duke burned the last of its remaining stock of coal, a major phase of Duke's Climate Action Plan to become carbon neutral by 2024. With the coal pile gone, Duke is beginning renovations to its West Campus steam plant to convert it from a coal-burning plant to a natural gas facility like its sister plant on East Campus.That means for the first time since the 1920s, Duke is not using coal to produce steam to heat Duke's buildings, sterilize surgical equipment and maintain proper humidity for art work and lab research."This is an important step for Duke in our effort to be as environmentally-friendly as possible," said John Noonan, associate vice president f or Facilities Management. "These changes represent a major commitment to sustainability."Built in 1929, the West Campus steam plant produced as much as 1.3 billion pounds of steam a year, enough to heat about 5,000 homes in Durham. On any given day, a black mountain of 4,000 to 6,000 tons  of reserve coal sat in the plant's yard off Coal Pile Drive. Inside the plant, 1,800-degree fires would create steam that was pushed through about 32 miles of underground piping to 250 university and health system buildings.Renovations to the West Campus steam plant started in May and are anticipated to be completed by October 2012 , when it will act as a "base plant" to provide steam along with steam produced at the East Campus plant. Work will involve removing three existing coal-fired boilers and replacing them with new boilers that burn either natural gas or oil, along with controls, electrical and fire protection upgrades throughout the facility. All existing coal handling equipment will be removed, exposing the original brick structure, which will be restored. The project also includes a major refurbishment of the structure and interior finishes. A portion of the area surrounding the plant will be used to accommodate oil loading station utilities, improved landscaping and plant service parking.In addition to converting the plant to a more sustainable operation, the project will follow Duke's building guidelines of acquiring Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification. Noonan said that renovations will allow the West Campus steam plant to achieve silver or gold LEED status. The East Campus steam plant received a gold LEED rating this year."Energy efficiency is a key goal and will be pushed as high as possible," Noonan said.Tavey McDaniel Capps, director of Sustainable Duke, said she's excited for Duke to address climate change by cutting out coal to reduce greenhouse gas reductions. She said Duke's steam plant renovations make it a leader for other colleges and universities who are also focused on helping the environment."This kind of step is pivotal in our effort to move closer to carbon neutrality," she said. "Being proactive in our sustainable efforts will make a big difference in the future."