Project FAQ

Project facts and timeline

What is the plant project?

MIT’s on-campus Central Utilities Plant (CUP) currently provides electricity, steam heat, and chilled water to more than 100 MIT buildings. The CUP Upgrade Project will replace aging equipment, complete the chilled water plant upgrade started in 2008, and increase the plant’s power capacity.

What are the project goals?

  • Upgrade the plant for greater efficiency and to support future research
  • Enable the plant to incorporate evolving technologies to help build campus sustainability  
  • Increase campus resiliency 
  • Support human health through the implementation of best available emissions control technologies

How does the plant operate now?

The power plant uses combined heat and power (CHP, also known as cogeneration) to produce electrical and thermal energy from a single source: a 21-megawatt natural gas turbine. Waste heat recovery equipment doubles the efficiency of the process.

Why is MIT upgrading the plant now?

The existing turbine has been running since 1995 and is nearing the end of its useful life. Upgrading the plant is necessary to meet MIT’s near-future energy needs as it advances its robust research and teaching initiatives. The upgraded plant is also a key step in MIT’s recent commitment to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions at least 32% by 2030. 

Why is it necessary to add a second turbine instead of just replacing the existing one?

The existing cogeneration system will not provide enough power to support MIT’s research and education activities in upcoming years. MIT’s mission is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Institute’s continued leadership in its field depends on its ability to pursue leading-edge activities, such as nanotechnology research, many of which are energy-intensive. As its research activities and energy needs grow, MIT will need greater power capacity to continue fulfilling its mission.

Where will the project take place?

The project will take place at the current location of the existing power plant between Vassar and Albany Streets on the northern edge of campus (Building 42).

What is the scope of work?

  • Install two 22-megawatt natural gas turbine engines, each coupled to a heat recovery steam generator; deactivate and remove existing 21-megawatt turbine
  • Install a condensing economizer (hot water) coil as part of the waste heat recovery system
  • Pursuant to a new agreement negotiated with Eversource and effective 2017, shift to fueling the cogeneration plant with natural gas only, eliminating the use of fuel oil in campus power generation by 2020 (except for emergencies and testing) and further reducing emissions  
  • Modify three older boilers to make them compatible with cleaner fuel for use if the natural gas supply is interrupted, eliminating the use of #6 oil on campus by 2019 (two newer boilers in the plant already use the cleaner fuel with lower emissions) 
  • Replace six older cooling towers with three new cooling towers that have high-efficiency drift eliminators to help reduce particulate emissions and conserve water (water droplets captured from the towers’ air streams will be redirected downward, preventing the droplets from escaping from the tower)
  • Provide Eversource with a location inside the plant to install a new gas regulator station that will provide additional capacity and more reliable gas service to the Cambridge community
  • Install two new chillers

What is the expected project timeline?

MIT plans to initiate the permitting phase in late 2015 and expects to complete the project (and have both new turbines up and running) in late 2020, at which time the existing turbine will be retired.

During 2020, will all three turbines (one old and two new) ever be running at once?

The three turbines will never be operating all together, primarily because the energy demand on campus will not require that, and also because the permit only allows for two turbines to be operating at any one time. 

  • The existing turbine will be retired when the two new turbines are operational and fully tested, serving as a back up during the testing period. 
  • When the first new turbine is installed, the existing turbine will be kept operational as a backup. It will take several months to fully test each new turbine to ensure that it is running well. 
  • Once the first new turbine is tested, the second new turbine will be brought on line. It is likely that the first new turbine will serve as backup during the testing of the second new turbine, and it is possible that the old turbine will not be operated at all during the year before its retirement.

Who are the members of the project team?

MIT Department of Facilities
Engineering: Vanderweil Engineers’ Power Group, Boston, MA
Architect: Ellenzweig Architects, Cambridge, MA.  
Construction:  Bond Brothers, Everett, MA

How will MIT remove and dispose of plant equipment?

The existing gas turbine will be sold to the original manufacturer. The existing Heat Recovery Steam Generator (HRSG) will be tested for any hazardous materials and, once confirmed to be free of any such materials, will be cut up for scrap and removed to be recycled. MIT’s goal is to recycle as much of the removed materials as possible throughout the project. 

Will any hazardous materials be encountered during construction?

MIT’s original power plant was built in 1915, and the building may contain construction materials that were common then but considered hazardous today. MIT will remove any hazardous materials it encounters. We will employ a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH) to test and determine the existence of any hazardous materials. The removal of these materials, if any, will be contracted to firms that will work under the direction of the CIH and in compliance with state requirements.