Marine Insitute in Juneau goes green with seawater heating systems 

Note to REAP readers: Alaska Sealife Center in Seward is also in the midst of installing a seawater heat pump system and expect to have it operational by this summer.

By Jonathan Grass of the Juneau Empire: The Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute has traded in oil for a new heat source: cool seawater.

The marine research facility has just turned off its boilers as it finalized the conversion to its new seawater heat pump system. This marks the culmination of a process two years in the making, according to John Cooper, facilities manager for Auke Bay Laboratories. He added he hopes the boilers will stay off for good.

“One of the big things at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) is being good stewards of the environment, and we wanted to reduce our fuel consumption here at the facility,” he said.

Cooper explained that seawater around 38 to 40 degrees is transferred into 120-degree water that circulates through the building to heat it. He said the water will be even easier to heat over the summer since the water may already be a little warmer.

Ground source heat pumps are already being used by the airport and Dimond Park Aquatics Center. But there’s a difference between those facilities and this one in that the research facility is powering with water straight from the ocean rather than underground.

“Since we are a marine facility, we were already pumping over 500 gallons per minute through the facility for our experiments, so we already had that water,” Cooper said, adding, “What makes this unique is because of its unique nature it’s the only research facility in National Marine Fisheries that’s totally green.”

Besides this, the seawater power adds two other advantages to the facility: efficiency and money.

Cooper said that the seawater heat pump is three times as energy efficient as electric heat, and even more so than the facility’s heating oil usage, which heated at 75 percent as efficiently as electric.

He said the boilers were using more than 60,000 gallons of heating oil a year.

“We’re estimating we’re going to save $130,000 of taxpayer money a year,” he added.

This is the final stage of a process to reach its zero-carbonization utilization goal, which began when the facility was using 120,000 gallons of fuel oil annually. The process began two years ago with reducing the laboratory’s airflows and then reducing the heat recovery of fume and canopy exhaust within the lab. This heat pump system, which took about two years to design and get into operation, was completed in February.

The project was designed by the first TSMRI facility manager, Jack Christiansen, and Jim Rehfeldt of Alaska Energy Engineering, LLC.

Cooper took over last August, overseeing the completion and commissioning with the assistance of lead TSMRI maintenance mechanic Gordon Garcia.

“One of the things that’s really neat is we also saved a bunch of money by doing the labor in-house from our NOAA maintenance mechanics and technicians,” Copper said, as the NOAA staff completed most of the systems with some outside local help, such as electricians and plumbers.

TSMRI maintenance mechanic Tommy Abbas led the construction with a team including Mark Hoover, Mike Anderson, Chris Cunningham and Jim Heckler.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at

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