Not every state institution seems so beholden to coal. As Purdue looks to pursue further coal-burning operations, Ball State has sought a greener alternative to fossil fuels. Indeed, its efforts to make the switch to geothermal energy have placed it at the vanguard of campuses nationwide.
Yet, when Ball State first began looking at its options for replacing its boilers four to five years ago, engineers originally looked at the same so-called "clean coal" upgrades Purdue is pursuing now. "At the time, that's what was available," explained Jim Lowe, director of engineering, construction, and operations for Ball State.
Original estimates for the reduced-emissions coal-based upgrade put the project at about $40 million. Ball State, being a state-funded university, submitted its request for appropriations to the state, and the state agreed.
But as time progressed, it became clear that other universities were beginning to explore other, more eco-friendly alternatives. The University of Iowa, for example, had begun mixing biomass in with its coal as early as 2001, eventually converting one of its coal-fired boilers to burn oat hulls from the Quaker Oats facility in nearby Cedar Rapids.The University of Missouri had begun integrating biomass into its coal-burners– from wood chips to corn stover – in 1995. (Missouri announced recently it would have an all-biomass boiler online to replace one of its coal-fired boilers by 2012.) Ball State considered doing likewise, starting with a mix of fuels, and moving toward full alternative fuel use as time wore on.
As importantly, perhaps, the price tag went up. What had originally looked like a roughly $40 million project for newer, more flexible coal boilers, shot up to about $65 million once all kinds of new emission control equipment were taken into consideration. Suddenly the financial incentives of a coal-based approach were a lot less significant when compared to other options – like geothermal.