Biogas could bring new energy to rural Alaska 

By Jill Burke at Alaska Dispatch: Students at a small high school in Alaska are giving new meaning to the “new energy” mantra coined by onetime Gov. Sarah Palin. But instead of looking to extract oil and gas reserves, as pitched by Palin, scientists in the Last Frontier are pioneering advances in an alternate method of gas collection — the creation and harvest of methane — and Cordova teenagers are leading the way.

Cows burp it, their dung piles emit it and melting permafrost in Alaska and elsewhere is releasing once-trapped reserves of methane gas that are now escaping as land shifts and melts. Methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat at rates much higher than carbon dioxide, is the byproduct of bacteria that create the gas as they dine on dying plants and other waste.

In findings released last year, University of Alaska scientist Dr. Katey Walter-Anthony discovered that the methane bubbling out of Alaska’s flaming arctic lakes is created by a cold-loving bacteria hard at work. Urban planner T.H. Culhane, who builds waste-eating contraptions called biodigesters to improve the lives of people living in urban slums and rural villages across the globe, thought Walter-Anthony’s discovery could help his mission by improving the efficiency of the small-scale biodigesters he teachers others to make using commonly available supplies. Their partnership, facilitated by National Geographic’s Emerging Explorers program, has resulted in an experiment, now in its second year, at Cordova High School, looking at whether Alaska’s cold-loving bacteria, called psychrophiles, can expand the temperature range at which traditional biodigesters — typically used in more temperate regions of the earth — operate.

Culhane believes the technology will work in rural Alaska. With plenty of fish waste, wood, food scraps and other organic materials available, the raw materials are in place. All that’s needed is the motivation. Read more

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