UAF Combined Heat and Power Plant


By Rachael Kvapil

 

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Steam turbine on crane, University of Alaska Fairbanks
The plant upgrades include a new circulating fluidized bed boiler and a new steam turbine that will transform
the output from high pressure steam to electricity and low-pressure steam for building heat loads.
Photo Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks

 

Fairbanksans who regularly commute on Alumni Drive can attest that the University of Alaska Fairbanks Power Plant has been quiet for nearly a year. The last big construction action on this major route happened in summer 2017 when Haskell-Davis Joint Venture poured 2,138 cubic yards of concrete as part of major facility upgrades.

Mike Ruckhaus, senior project manager for UAF Design and Construction, said “quiet” is a good thing.

“We’re in the commissioning phase right now, so there is really nothing to notice from the outside,” Ruckhaus said.

Most of the noticeable work was completed last summer when Haskell-Davis finished its personal record-breaking concrete pour for an 80-feet-by-80-feet-square, 9.5-feetthick foundation that now supports the ash storage silo on campus. The plant upgrades include a new facility adjacent to the existing Atkinson Heat and Power plant that houses a new circulating fluidized bed boiler to replace the two existing coal-fired stoker boilers. It also houses a new steam turbine that transforms the output from high pressure steam to electricity and low pressure steam for building heat loads.

The goal of the project, which started in 2016, is to cut emissions and increase efficiency of the campus power plant. The power plant accomplishes this with a new CFB boiler that can burn solid fuels (coal and biomass) mixed with limestone. Air flows through the boiler, allowing the fuel to burn while moving fluidly on a bed of sand. The result is a reduction of particulate matter, or PM, 2.5 pollutants, the tiny particles that are a significant health concern to Fairbanks, and 20 percent more energy efficiency.

Jed Shandy, project manager for Haskell-Davis, said his company and UAF are currently working through the commissioning process to ensure the power plant achieves its goals.

“There are 38 distinct systems that need checking, and we have completed a large part of that,” Shandy said. “We’ve identified a few issues that are common to every project. So now it is down to the details.”

A major milestone came with the initial firing of the new boiler. The project team is tuning it for efficient pollution concentration and doing a reliability run where Haskell-Davis and UAF log the system’s performance until it is 95 percent consistent. Afterward the team will have a third-party-certified environmental monitor verify its efficiency. Shandy estimates the entire process will run into mid-January.

Welder, University of Alaska Fairbanks
Haskell-Davis is on schedule to complete the commissioning process for the University of Alaska Fairbanks
Combined Heat and Power Plant in January. Once it’s running full-time, UAF will eliminate the need to purchase
external electricity to meet the needs of the campus.
Photo Courtesy of University of Alaska Fairbanks

 

The power plant is key to day-today operations on campus, providing electricity, heat and cooling for about 3 million square feet of space. UAF had been planning upgrades for about 10 years before breaking ground two years ago. Since then, the foundations have been poured and the main boiler island and exterior completed, along with a bridge between the existing plant and new facility, where the steam turbine generator is installed.

The $245 million project saw some minor changes to its scope, such as methods for tapping into the university’s water line and increasing the overall size of the structure. However, Shandy said these changes have not significantly affected the cost.

“To get a power plant designed and built close to a budget that was set five years ago is an unusual process and due to the owner and contractor working closely through any issues,” Shandy said.

Ruckhaus agreed, saying that teamwork went a long way to ensuring the success of this project. “Using an at-risk delivery method allowed us to integrate the contractor into the design and execution. We’ve seen the normal range of problems that were solved by working together.”

Circulating fluidized bed technology has been around for almost 40 years, developed shortly after the construction of the Atkinson Building. The two existing auxiliary boilers — one of which burns oil and the other, both oil and gas — will remain as backup. Prior to the upgrades, the university would have to switch to oil-fired heat and electricity as backup, which could add as much as $20 million per year to power and heating costs. With the new system in place, running quietly behind the scenes, the university can potentially meet its energy needs for the next 50 years and nearly eliminate the need to purchase higher-cost electricity from Golden Valley Electric Association.

 

Rachael Kvapil is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Fairbanks.