MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — Ball State University officials are planning to stop burning coal soon at the campus steam plant in boilers that date back to the 1940s.
The university will continue using three natural gas-fired boilers to produce steam for heating and hot water for the Muncie campus, Ball State engineering director Jim Lowe said. The move, expected sometime in March, will end the burning of up to 36,000 tons of coal a year in the school’s four coal-fired boilers.
School officials made the decision because revisions to the federal Clean Air Act would have required the installation of new pollution controls at the steam plant.
“It didn’t make sense to install very expensive emission control equipment when we’re 1½ years away from finishing our geothermal system,” Lowe told The Star Press.
The school began work in 2010 on a $70 million geothermal project that involves drilling about 3,600 boreholes around campus for a large-scale heat pump system.
Lowe said that project is about half complete and has already reduced needed steam production by 40 percent.
IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital also uses steam from Ball State to sanitize medical instruments. Geothermal heat is adequate to warm buildings on the 18,000-student campus, but not to sterilize dishware and surgical equipment, Lowe said.
“There are places on campus that still need steam, like the health and dining areas,” he said. “It’s a hotter product. We’ll always make steam.”
Emissions reports show that Ball State’s heat and chill plant has had annual pollution releases including nearly 1,500 tons of sulfur dioxide and about 85,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
“The health benefits (from not burning coal) will be reduced soot and other particulates that can cause lung problems, including asthma,” said John Vann, a Ball State faculty member and environmentalist.
Officials expect to tear down the twin coal smokestacks on the southwestern edge of campus by the summer of 2015.