Combined research activity and building operations at the Colorado State University Powerhouse Energy Campus has helped save more than 170 million tonnes of greenhouse gas from entering the atmosphere over the last two decades. That is roughly equivalent to annual emissions from 24 large coal plants or the emissions savings of planting 4 million trees.
The total is tracked by a Carbon Ticker clock that greets guests over the main door as they enter the facility near downtown Fort Collins. Much of the research featured in the impressive total was done in the last decade and came from within the Energy Institute headquartered in the building. The rolling total also includes various contributions from faculty-led interdisciplinary teams studying the impacts of methane emissions on human health, energy systems, and our climate.
Mechanical Engineering Professor Jason Quinn runs the Sustainability Research Laboratory on the Powerhouse Campus. He said the ticker is an attempt to quantify the impact of CSU-led research from groups like his, as well as contributions from closely affiliated spinout companies that share space in the facility. He said the total also includes savings from the building’s heating and cooling systems, which are LEED platinum-certified – making for a holistic picture of the combined research activity at Colorado State in a key area.
“The ticker is one of the first things you see when you enter the building. People really take notice and instantly want to know more,” Quinn said. “It showcases the impact of the interdisciplinary work Colorado State University is doing every day around methane emissions. The total represents work in renewable energy generation and storage as well as those closely associated policy and global development components – and everything in between.”
To date, the ticker shows a reduction of 39 metric tonnes of CO2 per minute or about 20.6 million tonnes annually. That is roughly equal to emissions from 24 million U.S. homes in a year or about 37 million cars on the road for a year, Quinn said.
Large portions of that total come from work at the Methane Emissions Technology Evaluation Center (METEC) around managing emissions during pipeline blowdowns, reducing compressor emissions and replacing gas-driven pneumatic controllers. Work in the Engines and Energy Conversion Lab improving the efficiency of alternative fuel-driven engines is also a major contributor to the rolling total, Quinn said.
The ticker also considers contributions from groups like the CSU Cookstove Lab, which tests and develops systems to replace open-fire cookstoves in developing nations, reducing fuel consumption and improving health outcomes.
Work to develop and display the ticker was led by CSU Research Scientist Brooke Silagy. She said the ticker’s system for including contributions varied and that the team was always looking at ways to improve the calculations based on new work at the facility.
“Some researchers have specific data on carbon savings, and in other cases, those values need to be calculated,” she said. “Greenhouse gas reduction in certain projects is calculated by looking at how the technology updates changes emissions – like comparing the emissions of worn-out rod packing versus new packing on reciprocating compressors, for example.”
Silagy said putting a number on the energy institute’s carbon savings helps the Powerhouse Energy Campus – and the broader associated community – grasp the impressive scale of their combined research activity.
“I take pride in being part of CSU’s innovative research community, where our combined endeavors around carbon and energy turn into tangible, real-world solutions at home and beyond,” she said.