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STEAM: A Story of the Dartmouth College Heating Plant

SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,727Member
go here:

All Steamed Up, Inc.
"Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
Oil & Gas Burner Service
Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.


  • EBEBRATT-EdEBEBRATT-Ed Posts: 5,289Member
    Think I saw that a few years back. Interesting.

    Heating #6 oil to 240 to burn it. Used to work on some 6 oil jobs back in the day. I once thought that the cost of heating the oil was a waste of $$.

    Until an old timer corrected me. "it's not a waste kid, the btus end up in the firebox"
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Posts: 14,455Member, Moderator, Administrator
    Fine story, well told. Thanks, Steamhead.
    Retired and loving it.
  • ShalomShalom Posts: 115Member
    edited June 2018
    The Union Pacific Railroad, back in the 50s and 60s. had a fleet of turbine-powered locomotives that were originally set up to burn Bunker-C marine fuel. They found however that the usual grade of Bunker-C was too abrasive, and that this was causing too much wear on the turbine blades, so they had to switch them to #6 heating oil, which (as I was told it) was essentially the land-based equivalent of Bunker-C, same weight but better filtered.

    The original point was to use a very cheap fuel, but this eventually came to an end because that fraction of the petroleum started being used to manufacture plastics, and the cost of #6 oil skyrocketed, so they wound up retiring these machines in 1969.
  • Pat KPat K Posts: 86Member
    When I first started firing boilers at A hospital on the Isle of Long back in 1988 we fired 6 oil, heated it in the tank at the second set of fuel pumps and at the burner front. It was cheap but often contaminated , after some problems in the mid 90's we switched to gas with 2 oil as backup.
    Much less fireside cleaning, that's a good thing.
    Have you hugged your Boiler today?
  • SailahSailah Posts: 785Member
    edited July 2018
    While we are on the subject of Ivy League steam systems (My dad went to Dartmouth and remembers that plant) , I had the chance to "inspect" Cornell's system last week.

    They had the original coal beast, retired, looked like something from a Terminator movie. Had this gigantic cast iron conveyor belt that the coal was fed from hoppers 20' above and then burned with an updraft. The operators said it was installed in 1948 and no one misses it. I suspect the poor sap raking the coal and the coal dust was showering him from above misses it even less.

    And if you'll permit me a slight brag...

    We were there as part of our participation in NYSERDA's 76 West Clean Energy competition. We are one of 20 finalists from around the world and certainly the only one focused on steam. We put 20 monitors in Cornell's Power Plant as well as their Vet Hospital on traps ranging from 7-400 PSIG. So far found 5 failures, mostly at 400 PSIG on TD traps and it's been 3 days.

    Peter Owens
  • SteamheadSteamhead Posts: 12,727Member
    It's not bragging if you can back it up. Nice work!

    Is it too early to predict energy savings from this?
    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    "Reducing our country's energy consumption, one system at a time"
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Baltimore, MD (USA) and consulting anywhere.
  • SailahSailah Posts: 785Member
    Nope, not too early at all that's been integral to our cloud platform since the start. We are also working on CO2 savings which is just a function of natural gas combustion calcs.

    We use a modified version of Napier's equation and recalculate every 30 minutes based on 8 day moving average. This is the same math that National Grid uses but they take 1 data point per year (manual survey) and a fixed run time in hours. We interrogate the steam trap every minute so we do 525,600 readings per year and our math is based on actual run time and leak level vs a semi arbitrary level heard through headphones.

    And in the super random chance that someone from Southern Tier NY reads this and is interested in starting/modifying a business, I'd like to talk to you in the next couple weeks. Preferably someone with steamfitter experience.

    Peter Owens
  • DanHolohanDanHolohan Posts: 14,455Member, Moderator, Administrator
    Well done, Peter. Congratulations!
    Retired and loving it.
  • Thanks, Frank. That was an excellent behind-the-scene video. And congratulations to Peter. Let us know if you are a finalist and get some of that $2.5 mil.
    Often wrong, never in doubt.
  • SailahSailah Posts: 785Member

    Thanks @Dan Holohan

    @Alan(CaliforniaRadiant)Forbes Ha, well it would be fun. It's not exactly like they hand you a check there are a lot of conditions to the prize monies. Not the least of which is that it needs to be paid back eventually. But all of our sales so far have been in NYC so it makes sense for us.
    Peter Owens
  • JackJack Posts: 1,044Member
    I spent a good deal of time in my apprenticeship on Cornell's campus around '71-'73. Ran the chilled water lines around the campus and spent a little bit of time on the steam plant. I'll be interested to see how you fare on this.
  • leonzleonz Posts: 320Member
    edited July 2018
    I need to correct you on a couple of errors and misconceptions in your statement;

    Cornell University used 2 coal stokers making steam at the central heating plant from 1929 until the gas turbines were installed and then commissioned for use a few years ago.

    The 2 coal stokers used what is referred to to as a traveling grate coal delivery system which moved the pea+ sized soft coal from the rear of the stokers hopper throat to the front of the traveling grate while the forced draft combustion fan was blowing combustion air through the grates and operating on a continuous basis. The coal was scooped out of the small stockpile and then dumped into the delivery hopper by a small back hoe for many years.

    (They had quite a few steam boilers in the basements of the buildings on the campus that were hand fed coal boilers)

    The entire central steam heating pipeline system for the university began as a 15 PSI steam delivery system and as far as I know it is still operating at 15 P.S.I.G.
    One of the original coal stokers is Riley coal stoker and I do not
    remember the other coal stokers brand name.
    The Humpreys Service Building was built in 1929 and the coal stokers and the plant central heating pipeline system was installed during that time and depending on demand or shut down schedules both coal stokers were used to make heat the steam for heating system and to make hot water for the university.

    That rail line which passed through the city of Ithaca crossed south hill picked up scrap metal and dropped of strap steel and other metals at Morse Chain and then crossed the side of the gorge to east hill and crossed the university campus and then traveled to Dryden, New York and then Cortland, New York. This line served the local utility by delivering supplies like transformers, wood utility poles and wire reels that were delivered to the company storage yard which was on its own siding in Etna, NY and the same line serviced several other customers in Dryden, New York including the Agway feed mill and the Kendall Oil distributor both having sidings along the rail line at their business locations. The entire line existed until the last derailment in 1976. The entire line had 39 foot jointed rail and being a secondary rail line they did not spend much time taking care of it and that is why the derailment happened on the existing railroad bridge that crossed the Elmira Road at the city limits by Buttermilk Falls State Park. CONRAIL had a mess of its own making and it gets worse from there.

    (Conrail delivered 86,000 tons of metallurgical grade steam coal
    to the university annually until the derailment and that is when things became much worse)

    There is no longer a direct north south route from Sayre PA to Syracuse New York and there has not been a primary route from Sayre to Ithaca to the old Erie Interchange in Geneva, New York since 1959. The existing north south line was ripped out above the Old Milliken station Power plant when the Cayuga Feed Mill in Cayuga New York went bankrupt in 1949 four years after the second steam turbine from General Electric from Schenectedy, New York was commissioned.

    Plain and simple Cornell was not not going to spend the money to install a coal flue gas scrubber system no matte how much they brag about the current system.

    NOW when the EPA rules were put finally into effect for heavy metal reduction in power plant flue gas discharge they finally were confronted with having to do something about it and they filed for permits to continue burning coal and to begin planning on a connection to the nearby Dominion gas pipeline and did so creating a huge mess and causing problems for the neighbors around Maple Avenue and on nearby Judd Falls road as they excavated and installed the connector pipeline which they had to install around the 34,500 volt AC transformer farm next to the steam plant property which feed power to the university through the steam tunnel and power cable tunnel route in the campus complex.

    Cornell University bought and burned Metallurgical grade coal in their 2 coal stokers since the beginning of their use in 1929.
    They purchased 86,000 tons of the metallurgical grade bituminous coal annually until they stopped burning coal.
    The university used a plow conveyor unloading system to move the coal from the under the rail car to the stockpile for storage. .

    (CONRAIL brought a forty car string of 80 ton coal cars to the university twice a week on average)

    The metallurgical grade coal they used was brought to the steam plant by rail until the derailment across route 13 South caused a huge mess and CONRAIL told the university they were no longer going to deliver coal to the steam plant and a scrapper ripped out the secondary rail line from the rail yard in Ithaca, N.Y. all the way to Cortland New York where it connected to the New York Susquehanna and Eastern rail line that was purchased by the NYSE when CONRAIL was dismembered and sold by president reagan which was a huge mistake causing a huge loss of freight business and many miles of ripped up rail line causing many manufacturers to be saddled with having their products carried by trucks at a much higher cost per ton versus the much more efficient method of haulage by rail based on the "ton mile" using smaller connector rail lines reaching the larger interchanges.

    SO since 1976 Mix Brothers trucking hauled 86,000 tons of coal per year to the Cornell University steam plant at the Humpreys service building on Maple Avenue in 22 ton loads around the clock seven days a week.
    They used a Carhoe to unload the coal from the hopper cars the year round and loaded their trucks using a plow conveyor.
    Mix Brothers used the City of Ithaca's local streets to deliver the coal to the university using route thirteen north to green street then climbing state street hill continuing on until they reached Judd falls Road and then on to the steam plant on maple Avenue where they dumped their loads on the coal stockpile next to the loading hopper.

    The neighbors that live along this route created a firestorm of opposition to the trucks running at all hours and 7 days a week.
    In comparison the small unit trains of coal were much less noisy through the South Hill and East Hill neighborhoods.

    The mix brothers were told they had to change the truck route that they used by the city of Ithaca. There after they traveled on route thirteen north until they reached State Route 366 and traveled along Route 366 until they exited on Judd Falls Road and then turned on to Maple Avenue and traveled to the steam plant
    They also traveled on the old route when they had short loads of coal in the trucks.

    All I can say is its going to bite them when the transportation gas in this Dominion pipeline runs out or when a turbine blade breaks and the entire turbine explodes and probably damages the other turbine as they are right next to each other and then where will they be?

    No amount of Geothermal energy will work as the heat at that depth of rock (6000 plus feet) will be very destructive to piping and equipment and it contains naturally occurring radioactive elements in the rock that will be released when or if water is injected into the well or wells that they plan on drilling to make heat.
    They may just get lucky and find gas in that Utica shale but I doubt it.
    Drilling for gas in the Oriskanny shale would be worth the effort as it is a shallower sedimentary shale rock layer.

    Of course by then perhaps we will(wise up) be blessed with using small rail car sized Thorium Salt Nuclear Reactors to make steam for electricity and power generation in microgrid systems.

    You should purchase a copy of the paperback book "Superfuel" to learn more about Thorium salt reactors.

    I just hope that if and when one of the gas turbines loses a blade and causes a massive failure no one is near it.

  • BobCBobC Posts: 4,930Member

    Thanks for the detailed history of operations.

    Our willful ignorance of sodium cooled Thorium reactors will be our undoing. Had research continued on those reactors we could be living in an era of cheap safe nuclear power and fracking might not have been inflicted on us.
    Smith G8-3 with EZ Gas @ 90,000 BTU, Single pipe steam
    Vaporstat with a 12oz cut-out and 4oz cut-in
    3PSI gauge
  • leonzleonz Posts: 320Member
    edited July 2018
    Hello BobC,

    They made huge mistake not buying low sulphur coal from Wyoming for under $10.00 a ton prior to the line being abandoned as CONRAIL would have spent the money on 165 pound ribbon rail to replace the jointed rail that was used on the climb up and across south hill and the trains would have made much less noise going through the south hill and east hill neighborhoods.
    Granted they would have bought more coal but it would have polluted the air much much less than the high sulphur eastern metallurgical coal they bought for $86.00 per ton.
    in my growing up and spending the first 13 year of my life on Titus Avenue I always enjoyed seeing the trains climbing the mountain and hearing the diesel engines work as the electric motors on each axle provided power to the 4 wheel sets on each locomotive. If I was at my grandmothers with my mom and brothers at the right time on Hillview Place I could hear and see and feel the vibration as the trains began climbing the hill and as they passed right behind her home which was below the spur track for the chain plant.
    We always heard the street crossing bells and we knew the train was either climbing the mountain and 300 feet from the crossing coming from either direction as they always brought the string of empty coal cars were brought back down hill and then pulled south to Sayre, PA with the other cars that were either empty box cars that brought appliances to the old Montgomery Ward warehouse off Clinton street or bringing finished wood lumber to Robinson and Carpenter on Taughannock Boulevard on their siding behind their main building or refrigerated box cars of Schlitz Beer from Milwaukee, Wisconsin being delivered to Carl J. Yengo Distributing or loaded salt cars going south to the seven salt stock piles owned by the family that owned the Cayuga Rock Salt Deep mine until 1970.

    This line also carried coal to the International salt plant in Myers, New York and they brought box cars of paper products to the salt plants and left with bagged rock salt and and boxed evaporated salt sent south to market after the line north of Milliken Station was ripped out when the feed mill in Cayuga, New York went bankrupt as they were the only customer left on the line above the power plant after the gypsum mine closed prior to 1949.

    Back to south hill;
    The trip down the mountain always created a lot of thunder with the locomotives running at full throttle to power the radial air compressors to provide air to the trains brakes holding the speed down to under 20 miles per hour as the trains crawls down the side of south hill to the bottom of the valley.

    About Thorium which is the most plentiful mineral on our planet:

    There is still hope as a second thorium reactor has been operating in PA which is where I believe it is.
    When I saw the news report about it a few months ago the young woman that was managing and running the facility stated that in ten years time she feels that the system will have proven itself completely and be ready to be used.

    Can you imagine the opportunities a thorium salt reactor carried on a 60 foot railroad flat car and delivered to every unused power plant in the United States? They would power the steam turbines that have gone unused since the so called fracking boom began.

    Its ironic as the land owners that sold their mineral rights to the drillers and gas companies have sued the oil and gas drillers, and the oil companies as the natural gas they cannot ship or use is being burned off at the well heads and the land owners are not being paid for the gas being burned off SO......

    When the natural gas boom dies out from lack of supply the university will have take great steps to reopen the rail corridor to the steam plant on maple avenue by coming from the north from the old Cortland interchange point since the original right of way has been abandoned.

    There are no winners in this current operating scenario..................

  • SailahSailah Posts: 785Member
    edited July 2018
    Thanks Leon for that awesome history and for the corrections. I never let details get in the way of a good story.

    For those interested, we implemented new beta firmware on these monitors that also sends temperature (ambient) (GREEN) as well as counts cycles on thermodynamic steam traps (YELLOW). The leak is in (RED).

    I find it very interesting, although maybe not too surprising, with the correlation between a drop in cycle counts and the trap blowing. Probably of more interest from a large steam utility in NYC which is where we got the idea to implement the feature to determine condensate loading. Below picture looks much better full screen, I think you can right click and load full res.

    Peter Owens
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