Woody Biomass Crops for Interior Alaska
Project Lead: Stephen Sparrow
Interior Alaska has extensive biomass resources which could be tapped for power generation and/or district heating. Several pilot projects using locally harvested round log biomass have been installed or are planned, including in the communities of Tanana and Dot Lake. Additionally, the Alaska Energy Authority has received proposals for several small, self contained biomass power plants, and the Cold Climate Housing Research Center plans to test a small 25 kW biomass gasifier in the near future.
While existing projects in Alaska use harvested timber to supply the raw biomass, in other places around the world fast growing biomass such as willows or poplars have been cultivated for use as a biomass fuel. Alaska is home to a wide range of willow varieties, however there is little information on growth rates for most species. For this reason, the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) teamed with the University of Alaska Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in 2008 to assess growth rates of naturally growing willows and other fast growing shrubs in interior Alaska. The University of Alaska has also experimented with cultivating several plots of willows and other fast growing woody biomass crops at their Experiment Farm in Fairbanks, as well as use of willows for phytoremediation (use of plants to treat polluted soil or water) through the Institute of Northern Engineering.
These projects represent the first step in a larger pilot project designed to cultivate willows and other fast growing Alaskan species on a large scale as a biomass energy crop. This pilot project, spearheaded by Chena Power, will take place on 600 acres near North Pole, and is designed to assess cultivation protocols and growth rates of willows and other species to determine their applicability as a sustainable fuel for rural Alaskan communities. Construction of a 400 kW biomass power plant designed by United Technologies Corporation and a greenhouse operation using excess heat for food production is also planned as part of the pilot project.
Willows growing along Yukon River in Beaver, Alaska.