MU Power Plant has been supplying campus energy for 100 years | Local
One hundred years ago, the MU Power Plant used four coal-fired boilers and two steam turbines to generate heat and light for the campus.
One smokestack belched coal ash day and night.
TOP: Construction began on the MU Combined Heat and Power Plant in 1921. BOTTOM: The power plant began supplying energy to the University of Missouri campus in 1923.
Today, the power plant has six boilers and multiple turbine generators. None of the boilers use coal exclusively and three have been decommissioned.
Instead, the century-old plant is moving toward renewable energy sources of biomass, wind and solar.
“A hundred years ago the primary fuel source was coal,” said Michael O’Connor, director of MU Energy Management. “The department started a transition away from coal in 2008.”
Tuesday marked the centennial of the MU Power Plant, with historical and recent installations witnessing all the changes that have taken place in 100 years.
Much is different, including the size and scope of the campus, the number of students and faculty, and the way power is produced.
In 1923, the university was educating 3,260 students, and the campus held 44 buildings, many of them housing farm animals.
In 2023, a total of 31,121 students are being educated at MU, and the campus holds 789 education and general buildings and 185 auxiliary buildings.
Energy Management now has 107 employees, and the power plant provides energy services for more than 16 million square feet of facilities, powering hospitals, clinics, academic buildings, research facilities, laboratories, a research reactor, residential halls, dining facilities, recreational and athletic facilities, computer centers and administration buildings.
Officially called the University of Missouri’s Combined Cooling Heat and Power Plant, it opened Jan. 3, 1923, at the corner of Fifth Street and Stewart Road—then called Maple Street.
With a budget of $150,000, construction started in 1921 and finished two years later. Two deep wells were built in 1938 with a 375,000-gallon reservoir. A boiler and a steam turbine generator were also installed.
Additional boilers were introduced in the 1950s and ’60s, plus new steam turbine generators were installed. By now, the student population was more than 11,000.
By 1974, when the population had grown to 21,687, another boiler and a steam turbine generator were installed. In 1980-81, the two 325-foot concrete smokestacks were erected.
Biomaterial is loaded into silos on Wednesday at the MU Power Plant in Columbia. The biomaterial is used to burn for heat and energy throughout campus.
Today, a complex interconnected system powers the campus. Steam is produced in the boilers and by capturing heat from the turbine generators. The steam is channeled through 26 miles of underground piping for heat, sterilization, chilled water, cleaning, humidification and other energy uses.
Electricity is distributed through underground power lines, and the campus cooling system produces and sends water to campus buildings for air-conditioning.
Coal is gradually fading out of the fuel distribution of the power station to meet stiffer environmental regulations and take advantage of the availability of alternative fuels.
“The current plant serves the campus needs with 34% renewable energy,” O’Connor said. “The remainder of the primary fuel source is natural gas.”
The change represents a nationwide trend to move into new energy sources.
“I look forward to the next 100 years,” O’Connor said.
Biomaterial is burned on Wednesday at the MU Combined Heat and Power Plant in Columbia. The first biomaterials were used at the power plant in 2005.
Steam chillers are intertwined throughout the MU Combined Heat and Power Plant on Wednesday in Columbia. The steam chillers work to cool buildings on campus and provide process cooling for research.
Bolts of electric chillers rust on Wednesday at the MU Power Plant in Columbia. The electric chillers work alongside steam chillers to cool campus facilities.
A control booth illuminates on Wednesday at the MU Power Plant in Columbia. These control centers were added to the power plant in 1985.
Water vapor pours over the stacks on Wednesday at the MU Power Plant in Columbia. The water vapor is a product of the heating and cooling procedures at the power plant.