Alaska is one of the coldest spots in the world, but its natural sources of heat represent a wonderful opportunity in renewable energy resources.
One of these natural sources is the hot springs which give the town of Chena Hot Springs, Alaska its name. Recently, the owner of the Chena Hot Springs Resort, Bernie Karl, has developed a new way to harness this energy: a portable geothermal power generator which generates electricity from hot water.
The resort’s hot springs result from geothermal heat that rises to the earth's surface through fissures in the planet's core. But Karl realized that the heat from the springs can offer more than a spa experience; it can provide electricity. Karl developed what's being called the first portable geothermal generator. The generator takes hot water from the ground and cycles it into a refrigeration system to generate power. Once the water is used, it gets pumped back into the ground to be reused again.
The resort’s work was the result of state and federal grants; Karl also worked with United Technologies of Hartford, Connecticut to develop the 400 kW low-temperature power generator that generates electricity from the 165 degree water at the springs. Basically a power plant on a flat bed truck, the mobile generator could be transported to communities anywhere in the world that are near hot springs.
"When this prototype starts making electricity it will totally change small energy consumption and production," Karl said.
Karl has also developed a portable geothermal power unit that can be hooked up to oil or gas wells, which generate hot water as a byproduct of drilling. When it's hooked up to an oil well the unit can generate enough power for 280 homes, allowing the oil industry to produce electricity as well as oil. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and several private companies will test a prototype generator at an oil well in Florida this fall.
"Any waste heat stream. Go to anybody that's got an engine running, anybody that's manufacturing something. It's got waste heat," Karl said. "You back it up and turn it into electricity."
The technology can also use waste heat or geothermal energy to create hydrogen fuel which Chena Hot Springs plans to use to run its cars. Karl hopes the technology can help develop a cheap supply of power for rural Alaska, where fuel can cost as much as $6 a gallon.
"I'm telling you every community in Alaska can be totally sufficient in ten years," Karl said.
Image courtesy of Chena Hot Springs
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