Duke University eyes biogas, not fossil fuels, for new power plant

By Elizabeth Ouzts, Southeast Energy News.

In the latest twist on the controversial power plant Duke University proposed last spring, an influential group of students, faculty and staff says it should be fueled from methane captured from hog waste, not natural gas.

“Duke University is committed to the investment necessary to utilize a percentage of biogas in the [plant] from day one of operation,” reads a fact sheet distributed at a community meeting last week on Duke’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.

The statement is one of several that’s garnered consensus from a select panel analyzing the 21-megawatt combined heat and power (CHP) plant, which is on holdfollowing a firestorm of criticism from outside and within the Duke community about its purported climate benefits.

Throughout the controversy, the university has said it was a ‘long-range goal’ to convert the hyper-efficient plant from natural gas to biogas. But now the 23-member subcommittee says it should be fueled at least partially with swine gas from the outset.

“I think we can get enough biogas in this plant the day it fires so that it’s carbon neutral,” said the group’s chair, Tim Profeta, who also leads Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Solutions.

The subcommittee, which will report directly to the university’s board of trustees, has not yet finished its recommendations, and could do so as early as next week.