Skip to main content

steam-plant-01The UT steam plant conversion project is now well underway with the dismantling of the first of the plant’s coal-fired boilers.

The project is designed to eliminate coal use completely by transitioning to natural gas. A successful conversion will lead to decreased amounts of emissions, less costly fuel oil delivery, and a better water treatment system.

The Steam Plant Division of the Facilities Services Department is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the central steam plant, which serves the university’s Knoxville and Institute of Agriculture campuses.

The plant generates steam for more than 150 buildings on the two campuses. Steam is used for heating these facilities as well as providing hot water and operating sterilizers, autoclaves, and similar machinery. Eleven miles of underground steam pipes and return lines crisscross the campuses.

The conversion project was awarded to Southern Constructors Inc., and work officially began last month. The project will continue for approximately three years.

The first phase of the project consists of the removal of coal boiler No. 3 and installation of new natural gas boiler No. 3. Included is the replacement of major electrical equipment within the plant, such as the motor control centers that provide power to the plant’s machinery.

This new equipment will be arc flash–resistant, greatly enhancing its operational integrity and safety. The work will continue through November.

steam-plant-02Phase 2 of the project involves the demolition and removal of coal boiler No. 2 and installation of new natural gas boiler No. 2. This work will begin in March 2015 and must be completed no later than November 2015 to be ready for the 2015–2016 heating season.

Also included in this phase will be the addition of a second high-voltage feed to the plant to keep it operating in the event of a campus electrical outage.

“During both of these phases additional fuel oil storage will be added to provide for an alternate fuel in the event of a natural gas curtailment such as we experienced this winter during the extreme cold-weather periods,” said Utilities Services Director Roy Warwick.

Phase 3 of the project consists of the demolition and removal of the 300-foot smoke stack, electrostatic precipitator, and remaining coal handling equipment, and the replacement of windows within the plant itself.

Running concurrently with the first two phases of the work is the installation of a new high-pressure natural gas main to the plant. This line is currently under construction from Topside Road, several miles down Alcoa Highway, to the Fulton Bottoms Rugby Field area. From there it extends to the steam plant.

The addition of this line is necessary not only to meet the increased demand for gas due to the installation of additional boilers, Warwick said, but to generate higher pressure that will allow the plant to operate its existing 4.5 megawatt gas turbine generator without the need for extra natural gas compressors.


Brooke Stevenson (