On the front page...
Operating nearly noiselessly and producing only the
slightest whiff of exhaust, a state of the art "cogeneration" power
plant recently came online at NIH. It provides 23 megawatts of
electricity (about 40 percent of campus needs) and tons of steam
(about 30 percent of what NIH requires) to both heat buildings
in winter and sterilize scientific equipment (in autoclaves) year
The $38 million facility, built as a sidelong appendage to the Central
Utility Plant at the heart of campus, is currently owned and operated
by Pepco Energy Services, but will become government property in
10 years. Conceived of as a more efficient and environmentally friendly
alternative to purchase of another traditional boiler to meet NIH's
rising steam needs, the cogen plant is expected to save more than
$15 million annually over the life of the system.
|Cogen stalwarts (from l) Dr. Farhad Memarzadeh,
John Fratangelo and Joseph Nieves at the Bldg. 11A plant
The plant is also expected to reduce pollutant emissions by 600
tons per year, compared with a traditional boiler, and to reduce
future carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) emissions by some 100,000
tons per year, according to Dr. Farhad Memarzadeh, director of
the Division of Policy and Program Assessment, Office of Research
Facilities, who is also a leading researcher in bioenvironmental
studies. The plant, which has already won a slew of honors for
cleanly conserving energy and water, will save more than 640 million
BTUs per year, equivalent to the energy use of about 5,000 homes.
Those are the plant's glittering SAT scores, but it took a lot
of grit to get there, according to Memarzadeh. He first began pitching
cogen as an alternative energy source in the early 1990s, shortly
after arriving on campus as an engineer with the NIH Facilities
Program. Cogen, he explains, is simply the simultaneous production
of electricity and thermal energy from a common fuel, in this case
natural gas. It's an ideal technology when there's a consistent
need for steam and wattage.
|The cogen plant occupies only the left portion
of the Bldg. 11 complex shown here. The steel stanchions in
front of the cogen facility are a framework under which portable
oil-fired boilers can be rolled, for occasions when the gas
turbine is shut down for maintenance or repair. The two giant
header pipes would carry steam into the plant for dispersion
across campus.Notice, too, the segmented chimney coming out
of the roof at upper left, which helps disperse emissions.
The heart of the plant is an ABB GT10 jet engine built in Sweden
and selected largely because it produces less than half the nitrogen
oxides of other commercial turbines. "This is the cleanest cogen
facility in the entire world," said Memarzadeh.
Fed a diet of highly compressed natural gas, the combustor burns
at around 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit and generates a turbine speed
of about 7,700 revolutions per minute. About 30 percent of the energy
generated is converted to electricity, and 55 percent is converted
to steam, which is generated in a boiler at a temperature of around
300 degrees F.
|Combustion gas generator rotor ready for
installation in the combustion turbine. Washington Gas delivers
natural gas to NIH at a pressure of 15 pounds per square inch.
A 1,200-horsepower Siemens gas compressor ups that pressure
to 400 psi in order to feed the jet engine.
Only about 15 percent of the heat is "wasted" as exhaust, which
spirals up through a unique chimney with segments incorporating
lands and grooves that act much like the rifling in a gun barrel,
sending emissions winding upward to disperse in a more desirable
The 7,800-square-foot plant broke ground in 2000 on the site of
NIH's former waste incinerators, which past NIH director Dr. Harold
Varmus closed due to community concerns. "We wedged about 10 pounds
of stuff into a 3-pound bag," quips Memarzadeh of the tightly packed
building. According to John Fratangelo, a vice president at Pepco
Energy Services, Bldg. 11A, the cogen plant, is only about half
the size of operations with similar output. "There isn't an extra
inch of space."
Highly automated, with more than 12,000 sensors and many miles
of cables arrayed in trays emanating from the machinery, the plant
requires a round-the-clock staff of only 2 or 3, who occupy a small
office dominated by computer screens. The utility-grade computer
monitors, duplicates of which Memarzadeh also has on his desk in
Bldg. 13, graphically represent every aspect of the plant's operation,
from input to output. Temperature, RPMs, pounds of steam pressure
delivered, wattage being generated — it's all there on the
|Cogen plant supervisor Nieves, a veteran of the U.S. Navy’s
nuclear-powered fleet and a Pepco employee, mans a graphic
display of all plant operations. The same monitor sits atop
Memarzadeh’s desktop in Bldg. 13.
||Power turbine ready for installation in the
combustion turbine connects to generator to produce power.
Adjacent to Bldg. 11A is the Central Utility Plant, which houses
five traditional gas and oil-fired boilers that produce steam.
Interestingly, the condensate (water left over at the end of the
steam tunnel's 2-3 mile circuit around campus) from Bldg. 11 is
reused, after some mild chemical tweaking, in the cogen boilers.
NIH could simply have added another boiler to meet steam demand — it
would have been cheaper to build, easier to get permits, and the
hardware would already be familiar to power plant staff. But NIH
is already at the limit of allowable air emissions, explained Memarzadeh. "The
cogen enabled us to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards
more effectively and economically than traditional boilers," he
said. "The reason behind this is the stringent requirements that
NIH imposed on the contractor. If the contractor didn't meet the
emissions requirements as stipulated, Pepco would have been penalized
at the rate of $500,000 per one part per million (ppm) deviation
from the contract limits." Observed Leonard Taylor, who recently
left NIH to lead the facilities operation at the University of Maryland
at Baltimore, "Cogen allowed us to grow the campus and stay within
the emission standards."
|NIH cogen plant facing east,
looking down on combustion turbine package from heat recovery
steam generator (boiler)
In many ways, the cogen plant represents a series of triumphs
over seemingly show-stopping limitations — the site was small,
in a busy part of campus; 9/11 happened and made construction far
more difficult; many argued NIH had no business generating electric
power, and were wary of a jet engine on campus — would it
be loud, would the compressed gas pose the danger of explosion?
Memarzadeh, with the support of senior leadership in the Office
of Research Services, fought for more than a dozen years to see
the project past each obstacle, creating highly technical scientific
and economic models proving that cogen would eventually be win-win
for NIH. When he began preliminary reports on the subject in the
early nineties, he didn't have the family obligations that he has
now with two young children, the oldest of whom is 12. "I would
probably not be able to devote the time required to complete this
project, if I had to start it now. It was an enormous effort," he
Interestingly, the cogen was just one of many projects Memarzadeh
was responsible for in the past decade. As a research scientist,
he has published many articles, monographs and books on air quality
requirements in health care and biomedical research settings, and
has been invited as guest and keynote speaker at more than 50 national
and international engineering and scientific seminars, conferences
and symposia. The Department of Energy also named him an "Energy
Champion" for proposing an innovative use of turbine generators for
steam-pressure reduction at the Clinical Research Center. The system
helped HHS save $1.5 million in new construction costs and $170,000
in future annual energy costs.
||Control room operator Henry
Valle of Pepco, who like Nieves is a Navy vet, checks boiler
"Without Farhad, the technology for [the cogen project] wouldn't
exist," said Taylor. "This is really cutting-edge technology, especially
how clean it burns. We initiated a concept and proved it could
work. We turned a hypothesis into reality — and titanium
[the turbine rotors are made of this very strong metal].A combination
of mechanics and thermodynamics gave us this result."
||Combustion turbine installed and in operation,
sheathed in insulation
Memarzadeh concluded, "The cogen project was an extremely complex
one that presented numerous unforeseen conditions, but the project
was completed within budget. The success of cogen was a result
of others' efforts besides my own. If it weren't for the help of
construction project managers Reza Jafari of NIH and John Fratangelo
of Pepco and the NIH contract officer, Ken Roman, the cogen could
not have been built."