The 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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