Fairfield University has received federal recognition for its efforts to save the environment -- and some money at the same time.

The private Jesuit school with about 5,000 students last week was given a 2010 Energy Star CHP award for its combined heat and power plant, which runs off natural gas to supply power to most of the school's buildings while lowering emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

The generator -- a 4.5 megawatt Mercury 50 turbine made by Caterpillar's Solar Turbines division -- was installed in 2007 through a $9.5 million project with United Technologies Center and $2.3 million from The United Illuminating Co.

The unit is Caterpillar's only such model made with a heat recuperator, thus making it efficient and low on emissions, with a release of only 2.3 parts per million of nitrous oxide, said Bill Romatzick, manager of Energy Controls & Plant Systems with the university's Energy Department.

"This has been a huge benefit to the school helping to curtail rising energy costs," he said, adding that the university has a system in place for the electrical and waste heat distribution, and the school's president has signed a commitment with other schools toward carbon reduction. "The fact that it is Solar's only product that uses the recuperator to preheat the combustion air and was relatively new technology, we were a bit apprehensive making the decision to be the first installation on the East Coast. But it has proven to be a very hot product for them and we have had a huge amount of interest from other institutions and hospitals in the tri-state area."

The plant has reduced the school's yearly emissions of carbon dioxide by 7,400 metric tons and uses about 22 percent less fuel than equivalent heat and power from conventional sources, said Neeharika Naik-Dhungel, a spokeswoman for the Climate Protection Partnerships Division of the Environmental Protection Agency's Combined Heat and Power Partnership Program.

"Through the recovery of otherwise wasted heat to produce hot water for campus heating and cooling, Fairfield University has demonstrated exceptional leadership in energy use and management," she said in a statement.

Combined heat and power systems produce about 8 percent of U.S. electric power, save building and industry owners more than $5 billion a year in energy costs and decrease energy use by nearly 1.3 trillion British Thermal Units per year, according to the Alexandria, Va.-based United States Clean Heat & Power Association. The plants also reduce nitrous oxide emissions by 400,000 tons a year and prevent the release of more than 35 million metric tons of carbon equivalent into the atmosphere.

With support from the school's administration, Fairfield University is carrying out other initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, such as building a new campus residence with a geothermal heating and cooling system, banning sophomore cars from campus and remodeling dorms to make them more efficient, said David Downie, director of the university's Program on the Environment.

"They understand that green sustainability is a profitable investment," he said.