FAIRBANKS — The Chena Hot Springs Resort might soon be the home of banana trees, cars running on cardboard and a device that could take homes completely off the electric grid.
The innovations were part of the seventh annual Chena Hot Springs Renewable Energy Fair, a showcase of sustainable efforts and projects ranging from biomass energy, geothermal heating and new year-round indoor-growing techniques hosted by local entrepreneur Bernie Karl.
The event was well attended on Sunday, drawing the attendance of community leaders, state officials and Alaska’s congressional delegation.
The crowning achievement of the event was the new LED lighting system in the Chena Fresh All Season Greenhouse. The multicolored lights, Karl explained, provide the same amount of light as the sun, but use much less energy than traditional grow lights.
The largest-of-its-kind system is mostly used for growing tomatoes and lettuce, but Karl said he plans to grow a variety of exotic plants, including bananas and varieties of citrus plants. The impact, he said with breathless enthusiasm, will get people interested and excited about renewable and sustainable energy.
“They can be inspired to see bananas growing, to see olive trees, to go pick a lemon or go pick a lime. That inspires people at minus 50 or minus 60 to see bananas hanging off the tree,” he said. “That will spark imagination.”
Outside, a retrofitted Model T truck hums along, powered from cardboard scraps through its gasifier-powered engine.
While speaking from the podium in a building made from all recycled materials that Karl terms the “activitorium,” Karl talked about his plans to develop biomass energy powered by paper waste as well as the development of a miniature turbine that could convert the excess heat from a stove to electricity.
He said much of the technologies on display can be adapted and translated throughout Alaska so people can grow their own food, produce their own electricity and recycle their waste.
“I believe everyone should be grid independent, and I believe everyone can do it,” he said. “I want America to get its greatness back. I want America to lead again.”