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$3.3 million grant boosts UAF hydropower research

UAF's Alaska Center for Energy and Power is partnership with private industry to improve...
UAF's Alaska Center for Energy and Power is partnership with private industry to improve hydrokinetic power systems.(BladeRunner Energy)
Published: Dec. 10, 2020 at 5:15 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A $3.3 million federal grant is helping researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks improve hydropower systems that could help lower the cost of energy in rural Alaska.

UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power received a grant from the Department of Energy to develop new hydrokinetic energy systems.

The systems work by using the energy of moving water in a river. Rather than building a dam or diverting water through a turbine, the hydrokinetic systems are placed in a river and have minimal disruption of the natural flow of the river.

“One of the things about the hydrokinetic space is that is hasn’t really coalesced around a single design approach. So all wind turbines kind of look the same because that’s proven to be the most cost-effective architecture. That hasn’t happened in hydrokinetics yet,” said Ben Loeffler with ACEP.

The goal is to harness energy efficiently, but operating in Alaska brings a number of challenges

“To be functional in the real world these hydrokinetic systems need to be debris resilient, they need to be environmentally compatible, and they need to be low cost to deploy and retrieve because the reality is at most sites they’re going to have to come out for the winter,” Loeffler said.

The university is working with two industry partners: BladeRunner Energy and C-Motive Technologies.

The system will be tested at a site near Nenana over the next three years.

Loeffler says in addition to the engineers working to improve the design, researchers from the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences are simultaneously studying how fish respond to the turbines in the water.

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