Somewhere in America an old friend of mine is hanging a low-NOX gas/oil burner on the side of this enormous steam boiler. This burner weighs 3,600 pounds and is the size of a Buick. It produces screaming air currents that sound like a banshee, but no one seems to mind because it’s in a very noisy place. Once installed, this burner will belch flame into a boiler that will produce 35-million BTUH of steam at 100 psig. Big enough for you? Once he’s done, the steam will travel about 150 feet to a pressure-reducing-valve station, which will reduce the pressure to 15 psig. From there, it will travel a bit further to some shell-and-tube heat exchangers that will convert the latent heat to 180-degree-Fahrenheit water so that they can heat some buildings with baseboard convectors. There is no need for high-pressure steam anywhere else in this facility. The boiler is there because someone who wanted it there specified it.

Make sense so far?

I didn’t think so either.

My friend is, of course, getting paid big bucks to hang that Buick of a burner. The other boiler has the same burner. It’s a bit older, but the same size.

Why, you wonder, is there another boiler?

Redundancy.

My friend didn’t plan any of this. He just marvels at it all, as do I. He does what he’s told to do, and he gets paid, and that’s just fine with him. If they ask him to hang a burner that is bigger than the Fourth of July, then that’s what he’s going to do. He’s a contractor, not an engineer.

You’re wondering what they do here? Well, they treat sewage. They gather it from great pipes; separate this from that, and collect the Essence of Poop. This, they compress into tight little briquettes, which they set afire in an incinerator that is as big as your imagination. They use natural gas to get things going, and once begun, the process is self-perpetuating. As long as there is a ready supply of poop, that is. Which there always is, we being a well-fed people.

Now, poop burns mighty hot. The flue gasses that come out of this incinerator are around 2,000-degrees Fahrenheit. If they let that much heat fly up the chimney it would look like Cape Canaveral, and the neighbors would probably get concerned. So the engineers take those flue gasses and cycle them through this other steam boiler that is larger than Madison Square Garden. Here, they produce steam at 400 psig, which they then vent though a pipe in the roof. From a distance, this plant appears to be producing clouds as a subcontractor to God. You may wonder, as my friend did, why the engineers don’t just take the 400-psig of wasted steam and use it to heat their buildings. After all, the supply of poop is never-ending, and the load (no pun intended) is more than sufficient. All it would take would be a pipe from here to the PRV station. There is really no reason to have the two 35-million BTUH boilers producing steam at 100-psig, which is immediately reduced to 15-psig, and then converted to 180-degree water, which flows to baseboard convectors. It appears to be the Department of Redundancy Department at work. I suspect that some engineer was frightened by the possibility that all the citizens may become constipated at the same time. Back-up (again, no pun intended) thus became essential.

I asked my friend why they were doing all of this and he shrugged. “Beats me,” he said. “I’m just the contractor.”

Somewhere in America, people are pooping, and not realizing that there is a lot more waste in this country than that which flows downhill.


Dan Holohan

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