UNC’s Climate Action Plan was developed in 2009.  It includes the emission targets, strategies, and identifies specific projects that the University will undertake in order to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality. Please have a look at the entire Climate Action Plan.

Project Portfolio

Carbon neutrality requires a portfolio of complementary projects from fuel switching to transportation efficiency. Below are the projects identified in the Climate Action Plan that, when implemented, will help the University to achieve its carbon neutrality commitment.

Project Description
Thin Clients Utilize low-energy, longer lasting web-based computers for libraries and other applications.
Business Travel Improve teleconferencing facilities to decrease air travel.
Duplex Printing Make double-sided printing the default for campus printers.
Behavioral Initiatives Outreach and training encouraging occupants to save energy.
Computer Standby Manage computer sleep and stand by modes for campus computers.
Low-Cost ECMs Improve energy efficiency in existing buildings using low-cost Energy Conservation Measures.
Commuter Travel Avoid parking construction and increase public transportation.
Commercial Mail Reduce the amount of junk mail or undeliverable mail sent to campus.
Green Building Adhere to NC Senate Bill 668 energy efficiency requirements (30% below ASHRAE standards).
Vehicle Fleet Increase fuel efficiency of campus fleet based on CAFE standards.
Composting Extend compost collection to additional campus dining facilities.
Chiller Efficiency Three projects to replace or upgrade chillers to more efficient models
Heat Recovery Chillers Capture heat from chiller condensing unit for HVAC use, rather than venting to a cooling tower.
Landfill Gas Capture and combust landfill methane.
20% Coal Substitute Replace 20% of coal with torrefied wood in cogeneration boilers.

Thin Clients

Thin ClientOne way to save power in computing is to slim down the machine. Thin clients are bare-bones computer systems with just a keyboard, monitor, and the minimal hardware necessary to connect to the web. All of their computing power resides on a central server, so power consumption at the terminal is very low.

Campus Services IT is currently reviewing its existing thin client deployments in places like the Cogeneration Facility to determine whether cloud-based computing can be expanded to other locations. Good candidates include libraries and web terminals, where usage is sporadic and applications are low power, like a web browser or word processor.

Computer Standby

Leaving computers on 24 hours a day consumes a lot of energy. By enabling automated power saving features like standby or hibernate, the University could save over $40 in electricity costs and over 600 lbs. of carbon emissions every year for a desktop PC. With tens of thousands of computers on campus, the cost and carbon savings really add up.

The Campus Services IT group will explore the feasibility of doing an internal pilot of power save features on departmental computers. Their findings could support expansion of a program to the rest of campus.

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Building energy makes up the biggest piece of the campus carbon footprint, and represents a big opportunity for savings.

Energy Conservation Measures

The Energy Management team has implemented several energy conservation measures (ECM) over the past few years. Their efforts have focused on reducing simultaneous heating and cooling, raising supply air temperatures, establishing minimum airflow settings, tuning economizers, establishing temperature standards, and determining air handler shut-down schedules (to avoid heating and cooling areas that are unoccupied at night and on weekends). The project has been a great success as evidenced by its dollar savings and reductions in greenhouse gases. Since 2009, an estimated $12 million has been saved and several thousand metric tons of greenhouse gases have been reduced!

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UNC Vehicle Fleet

UNC has undertaken several initiatives aimed at minimizing the impact of its vehicle fleet. For instance, the University has recently installed a B20 biodiesel fuel tank that powers ~20 vehicles on campus including the campus-to-downtown student shuttle system. Biodiesel is produced from sources such as used cooking oils and therefore displaces the use of petrodiesel and the associated GHG emissions! Additionally, UNC recently received funding for four electric vehicles which are used by University Mail Services and the Housing Support Department.


Zipcar lets members of the campus community reserve a car online, pick it up at your selected time, and get on the move. When you’re done, simply return it to its designated parking spot, and forget about buying gas, insurance and parts for a vehicle of your own. Zipcar has all of that covered!

The UNC campus has ten Zipcars available for students, faculty and staff, including three hybrid vehicles. The program currently boasts over 1,242 individual members and 41 departmental memberships. The campus Zipcar fleet was driven 26,175 miles in March 2012. That breaks down to 3,726 hours driven, 698 reservations, and a utilization rate of 44.18% (that’s a very good utilization rate for a Zipcar fleet).

Sign up at http://www.zipcar.com/universities/university-of-north-carolina-chapel-hill.

Commuter Alternatives

UNC’s Commuter Alternative Program rewards participants with a participating merchants discount program, a Zipcar discount, an allowance to park on campus one day each month and other features in exchange for utilizing bus service or car/van sharing. As of March 2012, 7,360 participants were active in the program.

More information is available at the Commuter Alternatives Program website.

Landfill Gas

In cooperation with the Orange County Solid Waste Management department, UNC-Chapel Hill installed a landfill gas (LFG) collection and control system (GCCS) in 2011 with an initial pilot testing period conducted between December 3, 2011-December 13, 2011. The GCCS became fully operational on January 6, 2012 when LFG began to be destroyed via an enclosed flare. Combustion of LFG, its primary constituent being methane, in the enclosed flare represents the first phase of the project. The second phase of the project will include the construction of a pipeline to convey LFG to the new Carolina North campus where a GE Jenbacher reciprocating engine will be installed to generate electricity for use at Carolina North. The second phase of the project is expected to be completed and operational by early 2013. The current LFG collection system consists of 45 vertical collection wells on the North Landfill and 25 vertical collection wells on the South Landfill.

As of November 2012, the project has already resulted in the avoidance of ~34,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. In the future, the landfill wellfield will be expanded and UNC expects to avoid ~40,000-50,000 metric tons of CO2e annually!


Engineers at the Cogeneration Facility on Cameron Avenue have identified three potential biomass fuel types for the eventual replacement of coal: torrefied wood, wood pellets, and dry wood chips. To date, biomass has been considered a “carbon neutral” fuel by most GHG policy due to its biogenic nature. One EPA definition states that biogenic CO2 emissions are defined as: “CO2 emissions directly resulting from the combustion, decomposition, or processing of biologically-based materials other than fossil fuels, peat, and mineral sources of carbon” (EPA Biogenic CO2 Accounting Framework – September 2011). This is a key distinction as biogenic emissions can be balanced by the growth and sequestration of other biological stocks. This is in contrast to fossil fuel carbon which, in the absence of anthropogenic forces, would remain permanently sequestered.

In 2010 and 2011, test burns of wood pellets were succesfully completed in the circulating fluidized bed (CFB) boilers at the Cameron Plant. In the initial test burn, twenty tons of dry wood pellets were moved and processed in the plant’s existing coal handling equipment. Operators also tested varying ratios of coal to wood pellets while constantly monitoring boiler operation and emissions. In the subsequent test burn, 390 tons of wood pellets were combusted. More recently, in March 2012, approximately 20 tons of dry wood chips were burned. Dry wood chips require less processing than the wood pellets that were burned in 2010 and 2011.

Heat Recovery Chiller

The Imaging Research Building (IRB) is part of the medical school research campus on Mason Farm Road. The mechanical room houses a high-efficiency chiller that performs double-duty: creating both hot and cold water for use in the building’s heating and air system. The chiller performs this function by capturing waste heat from the condensing unit.

Plate and Frame

The addition of a plate and frame heat exchanger for the Tomkins Plant is a significant facility enhancement. This heat exchanger allows the plant to drastically reduce its electricity needs, shutting down chillers when outdoor air temperatures fall below 45° and relying on the heat exchanger to produce chilled water at a higher efficiency.

Engineering estimates showed a projected savings of approximately 2,000,000 kWh of electricity per year. That amounts to an avoided cost of over $100,000 and 800 metric tons of greenhouse gases!