The new Central Energy Plant on Boston Avenue is quite an upgrade from the 60-year-old facility it replaces. Fueled by natural gas, the CEP uses energy-efficient cogeneration technology to produce electricity as well as steam. That means it can keep the lights (and the heat) on at Tufts even if the power goes out in the surrounding community. And you can watch it all happen through the building’s multi-story glass façade. “We call it ‘technology on display,’ said Randall Preston, director of the University Energy Program. This is how it works:


New Tufts power plant engine


At the heart of the new plant, scheduled to go online this summer, are an enormous internal-combustion engine and generator—together, they’re approximately thirty-two feet long and weigh close to sixty tons—that can produce four megawatts of electricity. On most days, that’s enough to power fifty-two Medford/Somerville Tufts buildings. 


Tufts new power plant steam generator


In a traditional power plant, the heat thrown off while producing electricity goes to waste, but the Central Energy Plant puts the 900-degree exhaust to work with the aid of a heat recovery steam generator that helps to heat thirty-five academic and residence buildings. Added to other efficiencies, that means a 14 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.


Absorption chiller


Additional waste heat from the cogeneration system is redirected to an absorption chiller. In warm months, chilled water from the absorber will help cool campus buildings, including Tisch Library and the new Science and Engineering Complex, further increasing efficiency. Bottom line? The new plant is projected to ultimately slash campus energy costs by about 20 percent.