Cogeneration plant tests sustainable biodiesel fuel

From the Oct. 22, 2007, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

As part of campus-wide sustainability and carbon dioxide reduction efforts, Princeton's facilities department earlier this fall successfully operated its campus energy plant boilers and gas turbine cogeneration system using soy-based biodiesel.

According to Ted Borer, energy plant manager, the test was the first of its kind in New Jersey for stationary boilers and marked the first time in the world that biodiesel has been used to fuel GE's LM1600 gas turbine, which originally was developed as the engine for the Stealth Fighter and the Navy FA-18. The turbine is used to generate steam for heating and 15 megawatts of electric power for the campus.

The test was conducted in various stages over two weeks in late September and early October. Results are being evaluated to see if biodiesel is a viable alternative to the ultra-low sulfur diesel that currently is used when natural gas supplies are unavailable, Borer said.

The biodiesel used for the test was produced by companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania from a byproduct of making animal food from soybeans. Studies of municipal bus fleets show that carbon dioxide emissions may be reduced by approximately 78 percent by using biodiesel rather than standard petroleum diesel.

"Using biodiesel may present a very nice opportunity to achieve emission reductions in a cost-effective manner," Borer said. "We're very encouraged by the early results of the test."

Borer added that the focus on finding more environmentally friendly ways to power the campus supports efforts by University researchers to tackle issues related to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

"This validates a lot of the work done by our researchers in areas such as the Princeton Environmental Institute and the Carbon Mitigation Initiative," he said. "We're testing on a large scale to do what their research has shown to be possible."

Earlier this year, Princeton's energy plant received a 2007 Energy Star CHP Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy for its efforts to reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency. CHP stands for combined heat and power, also known as cogeneration. Princeton installed its natural gas-fired cogeneration system in 1996 to support electricity, heating and cooling, and research needs on campus.