Sunday's sixth annual Renewable Energy Fair in Chena Hot Springs, held a day after a similar fair in Anchorage, featured a few technologies ahead of their time, as well as a few speakers slightly behind schedule.
A plane sent to Seward by Hot Springs owner and entrepreneur Bernie Karl to pick up Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, one of the event’s keynote speakers, couldn’t land due to poor weather -- forcing Treadwell to take a Holland America tour bus to Anchorage to meet the plane.
Also traveling to the fair on the plane with Channel 2 reporters was state Sen. Lesil McGuire, who gave the crowd a long-range outlook minutes after arriving on how Alaska can incorporate renewable energy into an economy she sees as remaining reliant on petroleum for the next 50 to 60 years.
Treadwell spoke immediately after McGuire, offering a vision of Arctic energy steeped in his extensive Arctic policy experience. He quoted a good friend, the late Gov. Wally Hickel, who said that increases in available energy reduced humanity's dependence on slavery.
In a playful introduction of Treadwell, the subject of recent controversy after Gov. Sean Parnell wrote a letter reining in his authority, Karl identified him as “Governor Mead Treadwell,” noting that it was the proper form of address for a lieutenant governor in the governor’s absence.
Many exotic energy-related projects were on display at the fair, including an antique Ford Model 2 powered by a wood-gasification plant -- a technology that dates back to the 1790s, but also saw use during World War II. Vehicle operator Percy Wickstrom, a mechanic from Oregon, says the design is even recommended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"It's actually put out by FEMA in case of a national emergency should we ever run out of oil, or get into an extreme crisis," Wickstrom said. "So if we need to run our farm tractors to keep from starving to death in our country, or run the trucks, we can do this in an emergency."
Wickstrom took several tries to get the Ford running for a small crowd to see, explaining that starting the plant required the wood chips he’d just poured into a prominent 55-gallon drum atop the vehicle to burn at 1,100 degrees.
"It's readily available energy," Wickstrom said. "But it takes a little bit of work to actually utilize it."
Another presenter at the fair putting innovation in the driver's seat was University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Michael Golub, whose team modified an old Geo Metro to run on electric batteries. The car has since been entered in several national science and technology competitions.
"We have an electric motor and the original standard transmission," Golub said. "It cost $3,500."
Karl says the energy fair is an important opportunity to begin putting theory into practice.
"There's all these doubting Thomases," Karl said. "That's why we have an energy fair -- you come here and there's a lot less doubting Thomases. When they see the Model 2 running off of wood gas, they change their mind."
Another project in fairgoers’ minds wasn’t even on display Sunday: a Fairbanks plant backed by Karl intended to convert recyclable cardboard from the city and its nearby military bases into fuel pellets to drive a turbine. Fair officials were planning to offer a tour of the plant Monday.
Contact Rhonda McBride at email@example.com