The University of Notre Dame announced Sept. 21 that the university will cease burning coal entirely within five years, and cut its carbon footprint by more than half by 2030.
“In recognition of both Pope Francis’ encyclical and his visit this week to the United States, Notre Dame is recommitting to make the world a greener place, beginning in our own backyard,” said the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the university president. “Of greater importance, however, are the contributions our faculty and students are making across disciplines to find sustainability answers, especially for poor countries in most need of development and the most vulnerable to climate change.”
Jenkins also said Notre Dame is planning to invest $113 million in renewable energy sources and projects, including a hydroelectric project, solar power and geothermal fields both on and off campus, which collectively will reduce CO2 emissions by 47,500 tons.
In a recent address to the Notre Dame faculty, Father Jenkins said that in the encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis “presents us with a comprehensive moral vision about the environment, technology, the character of our communal lives, our responsibility to the poor and marginalized, the dangers of a compulsive consumerism and the need for global solidarity. It is a challenging moral vision, but one for which, I believe, our world is hungry, and no university is better positioned to respond.”
Father Jenkins is scheduled to attend a reception for Pope Francis on Sept. 23 at the White House, and then concelebrate Mass with him at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Father Jenkins will be a guest Sept. 24 when Francis becomes the first pontiff to address a joint session of Congress.
In an effort to reduce carbon emissions from its campus combined heat and power plant, Notre Dame said it has cut its use of coal from 85% to 15% in recent years, with the majority of energy input to the power plant (about 85%) now coming from natural gas. The campus combined heat and power plant provides not just electricity, but also steam to heat campus buildings and hot water and to serve various other processes. Steam is also used in part to produce chilled water for air conditioning.
Notre Dame currently generates about 50% of its electrical energy needs, with the other half coming through the purchase of power from the Indiana Michigan Power subsidiary of American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP). Over the next five years, Notre Dame will reduce its coal consumption entirely by using more natural gas in the near term and by developing other energy sources in the longer term. These initiatives will include:
- Gas turbine technology — The university will install combined cycle combustion gas turbines to produce both electricity and steam. These units will displace older power plant boilers with newer, higher efficiency and lower emissions sources of energy.
- Geothermal applications — Numerous sites across campus are under consideration for geothermal systems to support both new and existing campus buildings. A project currently is underway to install such a system on the new East Quad.
- Solar energy — Locations both on and off campus are potential sites for photovoltaic and thermal solar systems.
- Hydro power — The university is currently working with the city of South Bend and state and federal agencies to permit and construct a hydroelectric facility on the St. Joseph River dam in downtown South Bend, Indiana. The hope is to begin the project next year. It is expected to produce 7% of current campus electrical needs.
- Heat recovery — Numerous projects are both underway and in the planning phases to recover and regenerate energy from existing energy sources, such as the power plant’s condenser water.
The origin of Notre Dame utilities dates to the late 1800s when a steam plant adjacent to the Main Building served the small campus. Near the turn of the 19th century, a new steam plant was built on what is now the site of the University Health Services in Saint Liam Hall. The plant’s current site on the north side of the campus was first occupied in 1932, and there have been eight expansions over the last eight decades, including the additions of seven generators, six boilers, seven chillers and air quality control systems.
A number of colleges and universities around the U.S. in recent years have announced plans to cut or severely limit their use of coal. The Sierra Club has a specific anti-coal campaign aimed at these institutions. Notre Dame’s plans are particularly noteworthy since Indiana is a major coal-producing state.