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Wright-Patterson heat plants among cleanest in world

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFMCNS) -- Two coal-fired heat plants that produce super-heated water for heating buildings in the winter and for supporting projects in the Air Force Research Laboratories at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, are among the cleanest in the world.

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency laws allow no more than one-tenth of a pound of particulates per one million British Thermal Units. The base plants here emit just one-fifth of that, and about the only visible emissions from the plants is occasional steam.

The reason for the low levels of particulate emissions is “baghouse” technology, said Connie Strobbe, the former base air quality manager and now an Air Force Institute of Technology environmental management instructor. It’s so-named because of specially treated, heat-resistant fiber bags that filter the particulates from the smoke.

The smoke, produced by burning low-sulfur content coal, is pulled into baghouse facilities in a manner reminiscent of a vacuum cleaner. The filtered emissions then go to smokestacks and into the atmosphere leaving nearly all the particles stuck to the bags. The bags are blown clean automatically daily or weekly as needed.

Chronologically, baghouse technology followed the less-than-satisfactory use of electrostatic precipitators. The precipitators made use of metal plates or wires that electronically charged the smoke particles. The charged particles then were attracted to plates with the opposite charge and gathered there. Unfortunately, the precipitators became overwhelmed sometimes and unable to charge the particles quickly enough. The results were relatively high emissions.

The two plants at Wright-Patterson changed over to the baghouse system in 1996 and 2000. Total cost was approximately $9.5 million.

Today, the base coal-fired plants are models for the rest of the country, and five plants in Alaska reportedly now use baghouse technology.