Power generation may be a future career for UAA students

Life in Alaska is full of challenges. For every challenge, there is an opportunity, and some Alaskans are seizing the problem of power generation and creating solutions that could benefit many people.

At a conference organized by the Automotive and Diesel Technology department at UAA, local instructors and representatives from Alaska industry gathered to learn about new technology. The last day of the three-day conference, held June 11-13, was dedicated to the issue of power generation. Several innovative Alaskans attended to give demonstrations of their own developments in this field.

Inventions included a device meant to reduce emissions coming out of diesel engines, which are used not only in vehicles but also as power sources for many rural Alaskan villages. The device, created and patented by Greg Monette of Anchorage, is called the hydro cell emissions reducer. It uses distilled water to incorporate hydrogen and oxygen atoms into diesel fuel in an engine’s combustion chamber. When the diesel ignites as a result of the combustion process, it causes the hydrogen and oxygen to burn in tandem, increasing the efficiency of the fuel.

“I’m a diesel mechanic and a high-performance enthusiast,” Monette said. “I was interested in what other gasses could do to improve the efficiency of an engine.”

The combustion process of a diesel engine usually produces heavy emissions, which are evident in the black soot contained in diesel exhaust, Monette said. The hydro cell technology makes diesel a cleaner-burning, more efficient fuel.

“With all of the rural villages running on diesel generators, Alaska probably has more diesel engines than the Lower 48 does in total,” Monette said.

Ed Peace, an instructor in the automotive and diesel technology department, said new ideas for power generation are vital in a state where traditional fuels are becoming cost-prohibitive.

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“It doesn’t matter what you believe about global warming,” Peace said. “Gasoline is expensive now and someday it’s going away; we need to overcome these things.”

Kelly Smith, director of the automotive and diesel technology department, said the problem with introducing new technology for power generation into the state is that someone has to be trained to operate and maintain it. Wind power, a topic at the professional development conference, is one example.

“There was talk about putting a wind farm out on Fire Island,” Smith said. “The problem is, they would need people in this state trained to run it.”

The automotive and diesel technology programs at UAA could help train a new generation of technicians to fill these necessary roles, Peace said. The department is looking at adding a power generation program to its curriculum. Though course content is constantly adapting to new technology, there are still many opportunities the department would like to offer, he said.

“The power generation industry has moved so rapidly that it has outpaced the people working on it,” Peace said. “We would like to see new courses here. Industry needs this.”

Some students are taking the initiative to explore alternative power on their own time. Former UAA student Chris Hunter attended the professional development conference to demonstrate his use of hydrogen power. Hunter displayed a hydrogen fuel system off of which he operates his vehicle.

Hunter said he became inspired to explore alternative energy when he was 11 years old, after observing the properties of crude oil and considering its harmful effects. Now 25, Hunter said he has retained the motivation he gained more than ten years ago. Working toward developing more efficient, clean-burning technology is his passion, he said.

Smith said creating technology that is efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly is a constant struggle, but a necessary one in Alaska.

“We need to look at alternatives,” Smith said. “You take a state the size of Alaska, with as isolated as some people are, and it’s not only an opportunity, it’s a necessity to explore new technology.”