Duluth's Steam Plant: The Original Cleaner Coal Approach Uses Below-Ground Steam Pipes

While the tragedy of the exploding New York City steam pipe is still on the news, this would be a good time to point out an example of the environmental benefits of below-ground urban steam use. Back in May it was reported that in the City of Duluth Minnesota, [USA] "crews were pumping insulation into the conduits that cradle Duluth's network of steam pipes." The Duluth cooperative steam plant delivers steam via underground pipes to more than 225 buildings in Canal Park and downtown Duluth, and demand for its steam heat is growing. For the future:- "Following a $1 million investment in equipment, the facility probably could generate about 1 megawatt of power with the steam it currently produces. "

"It's part of a $4.2 million initiative to improve the efficiency of the city's steam works. The project will involve updating coal pulverizers, installing new boiler controls, wrapping valves and expansion joints with insulation blankets, repairing the team plant's smokestack and replacing its coal conveyance system. When all the work is done, analysts predict the city steam plant will be able to cut its diet of coal by 17 percent, said Jerry Pelofske, manager of the Duluth Steam Cooperative Association. Pelofske believes there's plenty of life left in the plant, which will mark its 75th birthday this year.""The steam cooperative helps make downtown Duluth a more affordable place to live and do business. The system's role is growing, as well. In 2004, the steam plant got into the cooling business by installing nearly a $2 million water chiller on the roof of the former Water and Gas Building on First Street, across from the Civic Center."

Some of the served facilities use a separate system that uses exhaust from the steam plant to heat water. (Incidentally, the below ground piping, where not well insulated, keeps sidewalks ice free during winter.) We note separately that the Duluth Public Library keeps cool in the summer by exchanging heat with pumped in Lake Superior drinking water (Lake is pictured in background, above).

The Climate Trust has invested in offsets worth 210,328 metric tons carbon dioxide ...the equivalent of taking 41,898 cars off the road for a year...based on this project upgrade, terms of which are guaranteed by the designer!

Now for the big picture. There are many such systems around the world. The list of commercial and multi-institutional district heating systems in the USA alone is staggering. We don't have one for Canadian cities but there must be some.
Courtesy of the University Of Rochester, look here at the full list in the USA. Check out some of the original design dates. We're betting there will be a lot more district heating system upgrades just like Duluth's. Hopefully not just due to the news coverage of an exploding pipe, but also because there are distinct cost efficiencies and climate protections to be gained.

Final point. Using as much heat as possible, plus making electricity, is as clean as coal can get short of injecting C02 into the earth's crust (shocking, really, that the coal industry does not try to get more PR mileage from district co-gen projects), and this example helps explain the environmental advantages that can come from city living - the old fashioned way.

Well, not really the final point. This is the final point. Why are we not hearing more about this technology from the US Department of Energy, from US presidential candidates, from governors of northern USA states? Could it be no one wants to face the necessary costs of upgrading our urban infrastructures? Well, if that's the hold back, just add climate protections to the cost-benefit equation. Must we wait for Thomas Friedman to pontificate? For President Bush to visit Duluth? Or, for the Mayor of New York to have a climate change photo op?

Update: see Jilted's comment about why NYC has steam pipes here, on Hugg

Via:: AP Newswire (link is no longer active to full story) Image credit:: Climate Trust.

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