Buildings Thule Air Base gets new high efficiency heating equipment

Published on December 10th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


Thule Air Base in the Arctic Circle Gets $3 Million Energy Efficiency Upgrade

December 10th, 2010 by  

Thule Air Base gets new high efficiency heating equipmentThe northernmost defense installation of the U.S., Thule Air Base, is getting an energy efficiency upgrade that shines a light on the potential for making a significant reduction in carbon emissions without waiting for futuristic new technologies to come on board.  Thule is located about 700 miles above the Arctic Circle so it needs a lot of heat. The upgrade is expected to reduce energy costs  by about $3 million and save 1.6 million gallons of fuel annually, by consolidating and replacing inefficient equipment with updated systems.

Heating above The Arctic Circle

“Inefficient” is a bit of an understatement when it comes to Thule’s old equipment, which dates back to the 1980’s. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers writer JoAnne Castagna, the heating, hot water and and electrical generating equipment was housed in three different structures, and some of the boilers were non-functioning.  The main problem with the system was an energy-wasting design flaw, in which exhaust from the main engines was vented outside. The result was that large volumes of precious heat simply escaped into the atmosphere.

Heat-Saving Heating Equipment

The new system was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers New York District, and its main improvement is the capture and re-use of generator exhaust. The exhaust, which can reach up to 840 degrees Fahrenheit, will be routed into a centralized exhaust gas boiler, where it will heat water to create steam. The steam will be sent to heat exchangers in various buildings around the base, which will make hot water for cleaning and washing, as well as for radiators to heat the buildings.

Fueling Far-Flung Bases

In addition to conserving fuel used at the base, the new system will also reduce the carbon footprint involved in transporting fuel to the site. Fossil fuels have always been a major logistical and fiscal issue for the armed forces, and there has been a growing urgency for reducing the cost of transporting fuel and the risk of transporting fuel. Another carbon footprint-reducing factor that may come into play is the potential for using biofuel to run the generators, all the more so because the Air Force and Navy are already testing camelina biofuel on jet fighters. Away down at the opposite end of the earth, a station in Antarctica is also using wind power combined with a flywheel energy storage system, so more alternative energy systems may also be in the future for remote bases like Thule.

Image: Thule Air Force Base courtesy of U.S. Department of Defense.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Pingback: More than Half of U.S. Energy Goes to Waste – But Not for Long – CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views()

  • I worked in Antarctica several years ago at McMurdo Station and I was shocked to see just how energy inefficient these large stations (bases) can be. Most of McMurdo’s structures were built by the Navy in the 60s / 70s and no thought was taken to heating or efficiency. A huge number of buildings had basic aluminum siding without any insulation. The temperature in the main housing building was so hot that most people opened their windows so their rooms didn’t hit 85. They did a very large energy efficiency audit and found that a large number of improvements had a payback period of just a few years. There’s a lot of very large projects going on upgrade the efficiency, but it’s really pathetic how little care was taken in the early days of these stations.

    • Tina Casey

      Hi Tim, thanks for the insider’s view!

    • CB

      Great! We need more examples of this in the mainstream media!

      • Tina Casey

        Hi CB thanks for your comment. To be fair, I think the economics of traditional media work against stories like this. It’s not necessarily the fault of a conventional mindset, it’s just that mainstream news (that is, news that competes for readers in a highly competitive market) is defined by drama, and good news is, well, just another happy story.

  • Vince Eli

    “Thule” Air Force Base vice “Thune”


    • Tina Casey

      Vince, thank you for catching that typo (as several others did). It’s been corrected.

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