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UAF's ACEP awarded $4.6 million for geothermal study

Fairbanks, Alaska-The Alaska Center for Energy and Power at the University of Alaska Fairbanks will use a new federal grant to study geothermal exploration techniques in Alaska.

The $4.6 million Department of Energy grant will fund a project that will use remote sensing to identify potential geothermal resources throughout the state and determine their energy-producing potential. The grant requires a $1 million match. The university will seek matching funds through the state Renewable Energy Fund.

The remote-sensing technique, currently being used for volcano research, will be verified through traditional, ground-based geophysical surveys and drilling. While these traditional methods are reliable, the associated costs may not always be economical, preventing exploration in many areas. Remote sensing could offer a less-costly alternative.

"We are partnering with our colleagues at the Alaska Volcano Observatory," explained Gwen Holdmann, ACEP director. "If we can prove this less-expensive technology can provide reliable data, it opens up a new world for geothermal exploration in the state."

Pilgrim Hot Springs, near Nome, will serve as the testing site. ACEP has partnered with the landowner, the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks, and adjacent landowner, Mary's Igloo Native Corporation, to conduct the study. The Pilgrim geothermal system was one of the first partially explored geothermal systems in Alaska during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Researchers will use data from the previous studies in the project.

The ACEP study could determine whether Pilgrim is viable as a source of electrical power for the city of Nome and the surrounding area, a region with some of the highest energy costs in the United States. Electricity on the Seward Peninsula comes from diesel generators and costs 38 to 63 cents per kilowatt-hour for residential customers.

If a significant resource can be verified at Pilgrim Hot Springs, it could provide geothermal power for Nome and substantially reduce energy costs on the Seward Peninsula.

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