Frozen fossil fuel…


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Methane locked up in hydrate form on the north slope has been regarded by many in energy to be the ‘holy grail’ problem to crack due to the vast reserves.  The problem hasn’t been the location but rather the ability to free up the methane gas safely at the rig without the ice crystal structures melting for safe transportation and power generation.  Now Japan and China are both looking at getting the hydrates off the ocean floor and both are having a row with each other.  (Japan is talking about working within their constitution to have more defense force available due to the post-1945 constitution that lets only various Self Defense Force functions to exit.) Hopefully we can look forward to a graceful working out between the two countries as they push the technology forward for safe methane hydrate extraction and work out the currently frayed territory issues.

For the U.S., methane hydrates on the North Slope are a vast resource that could compliment the current mix of coal and petrol production at a cleaner and possibly cheaper price point.  For Japan, it is much more a matter of energy survival as they do not have oil, coal or gas reserves of their own.  Ironically, the lack of those reserves and F.D.R’s oil embargo on Japan induces even more for Japan to expand in the late 1930’s into China (and other nearby Asian countries) for energy resources.

Marine property rights can been somewhat elusive as seen the last couple of years with China creating atolls into actual land forms to then make claims in new ocean areas. Hopefully these two nations can work out both the technology as well as the diplomacy.


Looking at wood


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Three unique wood burning related events are slated next month for those interested in Anchorage (BP Energy Center June 2/ 4:30-8pm) and Fairbanks (Cold Climate Housing Research Center June 11/ 11-6pm).  In addition there will be a hands on event in Delta Junction demonstrating how to build wood gasification greenhouse heaters the first week of June.  Each has a particular group of focuses, yet anyone is welcome to come and each of the events are free.

Anchorage’s event, Burning Wood for Heat, Electricity, and Biochar, includes topics which include:
• Options with residential wood boilers 101
• Choosing a residential wood stove
• Pellets vs. chips vs. logs
• Emissions and particulates
• Greenhouse heat
• Biochar
• Wood care

The Fairbanks Burning Interior Wood symposium will also cover: Options with residential wood boilers 101, Choosing a residential wood stove, Pellets vs. chips vs. logs, Emissions and particulates, Greenhouse heat, Biochar, and Wood care.

Each workshop is free and it is open to all.  Call Art at 322-2309 for any information!

Clearing the air


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Burning wood is a popular way to heat in the Interior, even when oil prices are relatively cheap it seems.  For some, economics may drive the amount of wood burned yet heating with wood is almost a part of the Interior Alaskan culture.  The Fairbanks North Star Borough has tried over the years to use the carrot (incentives) and stick (penalties)- as well as education- for more efficient combustion overall by wood burners.  Tomorrow night the Borough Mayor’s proposal Ordinance 2017-44 to proactively set a bar for future home wood stove installations will be introduced.  The focus would be in the more populated parts of the Borough where inversion layers from cold weather compound the problem of outdoor air quality due to the amount of combustion occurring.

The proposal would increase burn ban, increase the cost of permits to install wood combustion devices in homes, increase those who would need to be responsive to burn ban alerts as well as put new requirements of more documentation for those stating that they have no other adequate source of heat.  Guidance would be coming from the EPA in part, as they seek to limit the amount of (PM 2.5) emissions for public health reasons.  The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation would also have a role per guidance.

Keep an eye this week on the news to see how any votes and subsequent changes this week will possibly effect your burning wood in the future!


Alaska Microgrid Parntership goes Lithium….


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Kongiganak, Alaska is a village on Alaska’s west coast.  As another first, the community  is planning to install a lithium ion battery into it’s cogeneration mix as another Alaskan innovation worked out by energy entrepreneur  Dennis Meiner.  I first met Dennis at DOE’s annual 2010 tribal energy program review, and spending 45 minutes in a 1:1 lunch was phenomenal. His work of the time to bring in 45kw turbines with all the difficulties of permafrost foundations in remote villages has been cutting edge. He was figuring out how utility systems could replace more than half the village’s electric and heating needs with wind energy.  He had local residents become the pro’s in the venture. This led to training up a three tribal consortium to run the operation so that they even got to the point of offering help to the lower 48 – this was eye opening from a holistic community/regional development point of view. Efforts included  wireless communications  in real time of what individual buildings were aggregating for a village’s energy demand  wirelessly so as to instruct wind turbines  (as the primary or lead generator and secondary diesel generators) to synchronize to optimize output.

At that time the innovative way to deal with electrical overproduction of the wind turbines during strong wind currents was to plow the excessive electricity into resistive heating elements that would store the BTUs into thermal bricks that were in Toyostove looking stove boxes (out of South Dakota).  But storage in lithium batteries would work much better.  In some villages flywheels have been a good ‘intermediary’ storage when wind is variable and diesel gen-sets need to adjust.  But direct electrical flow storage is the way to go if possible….We will keep an eye on the progress, as will much of the world which depends on microgrids for communities of just several hundred.



Outshore changes


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With new avenues into previously inaccessible arctic waterways (due to melting sea ice), there will be a shift in geopolitical concerns. A Colorado Springs (home of the U.S. Air Force Academy) newspaper wrote an article today noting that with the attention Russia has been getting due to actions in Ukraine, Syria and Chechnya, there is the assignment to the Spring’s Northern Command of what is noted as Alaska’s “fourth coast”.  More melt means more navigation possibilities for trade, getting to enemies, and for oil and gas exploration (with eventual extraction/production).  Satellite data out of Boulder’s (CO) National Snow and Ice Data Center demonstrates that there has been less sea ice in general with the trend expected to continue in that direction. Thus, with more open water there is the need for more air support from the Air Force.

Russia has the greatest share of Arctic shoreline, and it is in the Arctic where all but 5% of their national extraction of natural gas happens (and all but 25% of their crude oil).  With the movement during Soviet times of vast amounts of population into Siberia for  mining, metals as well as oil and gas extraction helped to a build up not only of infrastructure but also communities.  Now with more shipping, oil spill response and search/rescue functions are being focused on as an area of activity up on the Northern coast. This will only increase a need for U.S. Coast Guard services as well as Air Force work in the area.

One particular support which Alaska’s Senators have worked on over the years is increased U.S. expenditures for ice breakers as Russia has a large fleet of over 3 dozen as well as plans for future for nuclear powered models.  The  U.S. has only a few and it has been difficult to get attention for the need of more to be in place….. off of America’s “fourth shore” .

Offshore oil changes?

In recent years there has been concentrated exploration off of Alaskan shores for oil drilling opportunities, and north of the Bering Strait Russia has been putting in effort to drill into newly accessible territory now that sea ice has been retreating.  In his final weeks in office, President Obama had curtailed off shore drilling (exploration).  Yet this may be reversed soon.

Today President Trump is due to examine offshore possibilities for oil/gas extraction as he focuses on ramping up domestic production in the energy sector. It wouldn’t just be those ocean areas adjacent to Alaska but also in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters.  This would obviously include looking at more latitude in exploration of the waters with various geological testing methods. Thought the technology is still not set on stable extraction and processing of methane hydrates for market use, this may be an opportunity to look at further exploration in that (promising potential) area also.


Heating with air!

For those of you who are down in SE Alaska, keep an eye out for a half day conference about air source heat pumps.  The event is at the Craig High School from 10am to mid afternoon next Saturday (May 6th).  Air source heat pumps operate basically like an air conditioner, only backwards.  Pulling the air from outside and running through a cycle which extracts the difference of the exterior and interior air, it can then inject heat into a room.  For marine coastal areas that have winter temperatures hovering around freezing, these units can work well in keeping homes warm.

The key to units operating cost effectively in residential homes is cheap electrical power.  In maritime SE Alaska communities where hydro might be able to provide a kilowatt for around a dime, this type of technology can efficiently provide the opportunity to basically pull your home heating, right out of the air!


Emergency items for Older Americans

I was teaching an OLLI class at the University and we went over the standard 7 day supply emergency kit.  The new addition to the presentation is items that could be included by caregivers or seniors themselves in case of evacuation.  Some items have to do with mobility.  Folding up light wheelchairs are available often on eBay or Craigslist for periodic use. Often they will collapse in half for storage or to fit in a trunk by simply pulling up on the vinyl seat.  Walkers can be purchased at medical supply stores which allow for very tight compaction and provide stable rolling or walking along (especially if you cut two tennis balls and impale them half way on the legs that have no wheels.  Other walkers also have a seat on them for periodic seating when needing.  Finally, having walking canes with arm clips are not bad to have on hand in case of twisted ankles or sudden leg injuries to the legs during the  emergency event.


The other area where it is good to have compact, light items ready to go have to do with using bathrooms.  One is a plastic form board that can straddle a bathtub by overlapping onto each edge so someone can comfortably sit “on” a tub and wash themselves sitting down by shower head.  A hand bar with suction cups can comfortably allow a person to stick the hand bar to the shower surround wall and position themselves on or in the tub.  Another item that can make things easier in a new place of relocation is a toilet “riser”.  The plastic donut allows for a person to comfortably sit higher on tan unfamiliar toilet and have a easier way to stand up when needed.

And of course, a portable hotwater heater can be easily stored with compact 1 pounder propane bottles. Versions are made by Zodi and Coleman which allow for showers, bathing and sanitizing under what may be less than optimum conditions after a disaster hits.  One of propane these containers will hold about 4,500 BTUs.  And an adapter can be bought to hook up a five gallon propane bottle (from the barbecue grill).  Think of these things when putting together your kit!

Scottish “island” energy


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As it is with several  communities in rural Alaska, Scotland has some “Islanded” (in terms of energy) communities of its own  Eigg is a community which has major storms isolating it for days at times (though it is only a little more than a dozen miles from the UK mainland. About a decade ago they are noted as the first community to run fully off wind, water and solar power for electricity (currently Kodiak is roughly 90% independent from wind and water).   Diesel generators ran partial days which meant residents did not have around the clock electrical potential.

Similar to the Alaska Center for Energy and Power’s Global Applications Program, other countries are learning from the remote microgrid which Scotland has put up.  Four wind turbines make up  24 kW with solar providing 4.75kW of electricity (and double 70 kW diesel generators for back up with a battery bank).  Three hydro generators help throughout the year and the largest of them can at times generate up to 100kW with a 330 foot head. The other turbines create about a dozen kW combined. The cloudy weather causes the output to be seasonally variable, and  being at 57 degrees latitude (Anchorage is ~62 degrees) summer has a lot of solar gain.

Much the same as some of the Western Coastal Alaskan communities which utilize Steffans thermal stoves to deal with excess wind power, Eigg has turbines plow excess power into  the town hall, dock lobby and a couple of churches which allows them to avoid central heating.  It will be interesting to see if the ‘solved energy problem’ promotes migration and increases the island’s population in the near future!

Exploding permafrost??


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By The Siberian Times has  reported that  7,000 underground methane gas bubbles are ready to blow!  An article a week ago documented for the first time 2017 mounds located on the  Yamal and Gydan peninsulas that are thought to have been caused by thawing permafrost – that then is releasing methane. Both on foot field expeditions as well as satellite imagery have been used.  These land forms are noted by Russian scientist as ‘funnels’ that at one time were pingos (permafrost caused depressions).  

No one has yet been reported as harmed by these exploding ice thaws, yet they could potentially be an energy source for the area if correctly captured with the gas adequately distributed.  (More importantly, they are being studied to try and avoid damage to infrastructure and transportation of energy resources that are being extracted in the region).  A nickname (in Russian) for the terrestrial explosions has been “Trembling Tundra” (though no seismic activity has been connected with them).

The ice, dirt, and soil can be mixed with the gases with a core of methane hydrates.  This fluid mixture of cooled gases into crystal forms is stable as long as it is kept cooled yet if not properly extracted the immense pressure and flammability can be explosive. University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Vladimir  Romanovsky suspects that the bubbles may have appeared before but not been reported. It is also possible they were much less frequent and have accelerated in numbers the last few years that the permafrost has been warming up. We will have to wait and see how stable these items are to study in the future.