Emissions to decrease as Central Heating Plant switches to natural gas

Natural gas is the cleanest of fuels commonly used for residential and commercial space heating. Switching from No. 6 fuel oil to No. 2 last winter already reduced CO2 emissions by about 7%,  switching from No. 6 to natural gas reduces CO2 emissions by about 30%,  sulfur dioxide (SO2) by over 99%, nitrous oxides (NOx) by about 75% and particulate matter (PM2.5) by about 96%.[1]

In contrast, No. 6 fuel oil comes from the “bottom of the barrel”. It is the sludge that remains after removal of distillates such as gasoline so it has a higher concentration of metals than other oil. Burning No. 6 fuel oil produces darker smoke and higher CO2 emissions than other types of fuel, and “sludge-burning” boilers have been identified as contributors to increased air pollution and consequently, a higher incidence of respiratory problems.

The retrofitted system provides state-of-the-art boiler controls.

The transition has been smooth so far, according to Isenstein. Next spring, fuel storage will be replaced to better handle No. 2 fuel, which will only be used as a backup in case the gas supply fails. A third fuel tank installed in the late ‘50s will no longer be needed, so it will be removed next year and possibly replaced. The central plant heats almost every Tufts building on the hill between Professors Row and part of Boston Avenue. Three smaller plants and a number of stand alone boilers heat the rest of the Medford campus.

The fuel switch at the Central Heating Plant was a big win in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a single initiative, but given recent reports that 2010 was a record year for C02 emissions, there is still plenty of work to be done. Do your part by living sustainably and remember that all journeys begin with small steps. You can download the Green Guide to Living and Working at Tufts or visit the Office of Sustainability website to see how you can get involved in making the world a greener place.


[1] The Bottom of the Barrel: How the dirtiest heating oil pollutes our air and harms our health. M.J. Bradley & Associates LLC and the Urban Green Council for EDF, Dec 2009.

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