Energy-efficient fish science

Diesel use to be reduced nearly 80 percent with NOAA lab's technologies

Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries lab on Lena Point has expanded beyond fish research to include energy conservation.

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Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

The lab is using roof-top wind turbines and mechanical system modifications to lower energy costs and decrease its carbon footprint.

One innovative idea is a system that extracts heat from sea water and uses the energy to warm building spaces.

Combined with other efforts, the sea water heat exchanger will bring diesel consumption down to less than 25,000 gallons a year from 120,000 gallons - a nearly 80 percent reduction.

NOAA studies ecosystems and the environment, so it makes sense to run the place they work as efficiently and respectfully as possible, said Doug DeMaster, director of NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

The Juneau lab provides information about Alaska's fish stock and habitat to the Northwest Fisheries Management Council, which manages the resource.

The idea to extract heat from the sea water already flowing through the building's wet labs came from the concepts of geothermal technology, said facilities manager Jack Christiansen.

Ground-source heat pumps that extract natural underground heat through wells drilled into the earth are being installed at Juneau International Airport and the Dimond Park Aquatic Center.

Like those systems, the one at the NOAA lab will use an enclosed system to heat a liquid as it comes in contact with the heat source.

NOAA designed its labs to draw sea water from the neighboring Favorite Channel, filter some of it to be used for research, then send it back into the ocean.

Heat pumps to be added to the system will capture some of the ocean water's heat for warmer air in the lobby and laboratories. The system is being installed and should be operational in four or five months.

Sharing research

One of four planned wind-powered electrical generators already has been installed on the roof of the lab, which is located at the tip of Lena Point.

The 30-foot-tall, spinning spires produce 1.2 kilowatts of electricity, saving about $600 each per year, Christiansen said.

A second wind tower will be installed this week on the NOAA port building downtown. The project is small-scale and, like plans by the U.S. Coast Guard at Station Juneau, will be a test of wind generation capabilities in Alaska.

Christiansen and his staff also installed a heat exchanger in a room full of noisy heat-generating compressors, fans and refrigeration units to move the air into other areas of the building. They modified laboratory ventilation to decrease demands on an air exchange system that is necessary to maintain clean air for technicians to breathe.

Christiansen said he started the ventilation project with an inefficient system that needed the modifications, but he has come to appreciate the challenge of finding the next energy-saving idea.

"It's also incumbent on us to share this information as much as possible," he said.

He is consulting for NOAA on a $110 million lab being built in La Jolla, Calif.

A visual display is planned in the lobby of the Lena Point facility so that visitors can learn about the energy saving projects behind the tanks of fish, glass beakers and microscopes.

Christiansen also imagines that a sea water heat exchanger could be used elsewhere in the city, such as at a state office building planned on Gastineau Channel downtown.

"Maybe we could partner on that," he said.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or

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