Full steam ahead: Colorado State, Front Range Community College partner on small-scale, steam turbine power plant

Colorado State University is partnering with Front Range Community College to build a small-scale steam turbine power plant that can be used to train students and conduct energy-related research.

The working power plant will be housed in a laboratory at CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Campus, 430 N. College Ave. in Fort Collins.

The lab, which will be up and running this fall, will contain a steam boiler, turbine-generator, condenser and system controls that can generate up to 20 kilowatts of electricity – approximately the peak load of three to five houses.

The laboratory will support CSU’s engineering courses and energy research and will be a training facility for FRCC’s energy technician programs.

Dan Zimmerle, assistant research professor for the CSU Energy Institute headquartered at the Powerhouse, said the lab will provide a unique, hands-on learning experience for students from both schools.

Front Range students will learn about power plant operations and related fields, such as industrial controls and systems. CSU engineering students will use the lab to supplement courses in thermodynamics, heat transfer, and similar subjects.

“This is the real thing,” Zimmerle said. “The turbine is large enough to connect to the grid and produce electricity. The whole point is for this lab to act like a real power plant so students get a more genuine experience.”

The power plant will connect to the Powerhouse’s electrical testing grid and eventually incorporate a natural gas turbine; many of the nation’s power plants use both steam power and natural gas turbines. The gas turbines produce electricity using natural gas fuel. The waste heat produced during this process is then converted into electricity by the steam turbines.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for students,” said Clark Mozer, program director for FRCC’s Electro-Mechanical and Energy Technology Program. “It also makes a ‘one-stop shop’ for the power industry. Employers can find FRCC-trained technicians and CSU-trained engineers in the same place.”

FRCC received a $380,000 Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant through the Colorado Online Energy Training Consortium to purchase equipment for the power plant laboratory. CSU will install and maintain the equipment.