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Researcher seeks answers to village electricity needs

Submitted by Nancy Tarnai
Phone: 907-474-5042

02/03/09

University of Alaska Fairbanks postdoctoral fellow Nancy Fresco may have found a way to help rural Alaska communities meet their energy needs while reducing their carbon footprint.

Fresco, who is with UAF's School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, will present her findings Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 10:45 a.m. at the Alaska Forum on the Environment conference at the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage.

As part of her doctoral dissertation, Fresco was researching ways for Alaska to become more carbon neutral. She stumbled on biomass conversion, which has the potential to change the way villages create electricity by using timber, which takes only dozens of years to replace, instead of oil and gas, which takes millions.

"The potential is huge for communities to become more independent from fossil fuels and from the vagaries of the market and to become more self-sufficient," Fresco said, noting that each village is different and the proposal will work only on a case-by-case basis. "Whether this would be desirable is up to the communities. It's an option."

Converting electrical power generation systems to wood energy could play a significant role in addressing the high cost of electrical generation, wildfire risk, unemployment and contamination from diesel fuel, Fresco asserts. Under the direction of Professor F. Stuart Chapin III, she assessed the feasibility of switching power generation systems in 33 rural communities in forested regions of Interior Alaska and discovered that all but one of those communities could meet all their electrical demand and some heating needs with a sustainable harvest of biomass within a radius of eight kilometers of the village. The study focused on black spruce that could be burned in small-scale boilers to generate electrical power.

CONTACT: Nancy Fresco at 907-474-2405 or ffnlf@uaf.edu. Nancy Tarnai, School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences public information officer, at 907-474-5042 or fnnjt@uaf.edu.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Fresco will be at the conference through Feb. 6 and can be reached via e-mail or at the Scenarios Nework for Alaska Planning booth.

NT/2-3-09/094-09