Skip to Content
MIT Technology Review

Cogeneration next

Facts and figures to sustain your inner geek

Rendering of planned Co-generation buildingRendering of planned Co-generation building
Rendering of planned Co-generation buildingsources: miT Utilities, MIT News office; rendering courtesy of Ellenzweig, architect

Over the past century, while MIT researchers have tracked the world’s search for cheaper, more efficient technologies to power a growing and industrializing population, an energy system in miniature has been blazing the same trail in their own backyard. In 1916, the Institute made the far-sighted decision to build a centralized power and steam plant on its new campus, moving from coal to oil in the 1930s. It began buying power from the grid in 1938, but the oil shock of the 1970s led MIT to create its own power again; in 1995 it opened a cogeneration plant that reuses waste heat. Upgrades now under way will make the Central Utilities Plant even more efficient as it continues to power MIT’s growth and point the way to a clean energy future.

How does cogeneration work?

A diagram of how co-generation works
Graphic reading

The current plant produces:

1,327,769,647  pounds of steam per year
58,251,997  tons of chilled wate
1,327,769,647  pounds of steam per year

The upgraded plant will offset:

a 10% increase in carbon emissions from campus growth
and help MIT reduce carbon emissions  32%  by 2030

An archival drawing of the MIT campus
This 1929 drawing of the MIT Cambridge campus shows the Utilities Plant in the upper left corner located along the railroad tracks
MIT Central Utilities Plant
The upgrade will allow  CUP to meet 90%  of the demand on MIT’s grid, up from roughly 50% now.
Kripa Varanasi’s research group has installed a pilot system to capture water typically lost from the cooling towers atop the CUP’s roof and reintroduce the water back into the plant. The researchers estimate that the system could save CUP 15 million gallons of water
An existing 20-megawatt  turbine will be replaced by  two 22-megawatt turbines  that will use natural gas  as their primary fuel
The two new turbines  will sit  12' 8