A large column of black smoke spiraling into the air north of Lawrence on Wednesday afternoon was the result a equipment malfunction at the KPL Gas Service Lawrence Energy Center.
David Spacek, operations superintendent at the energy center, said today that a coal pulverizer on one of the energy-producing units northwest of Lawrence overloaded, allowing an improper combination of coal and air into the pulverizer.
As a result, the improper mixture of air and coal did not allow complete combustion, causing a buildup of unburned coal fuel into in the pulverizer.
The thick, black smoke was emitted from the plant about 1 p.m. Wednesday when operators released the excess amount of unused fuel for about 15 minutes, Spacek said.
Spacek likened the incident to flooding an automobile with more gasoline than the engine can burn at one time, resulting in black smoke coming out of the car's tailpipe.
Spacek said operators try to prevent the incident from occurring, but added that the improper mixture of air and coal occassionally gets in the pulverizer. The last time it happened was in June, he said.
Spacek said he was unsure of the effects of the smoke on the atmosphere, but did say the unburned fuel was a carbon compound, which has been shown to damage the environment in large quantities.
Each time such an incident occurrs, plant officials must file a report with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.