Agency pledges six years of support for UAF lab

Posted: Sunday, September 23, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A federal agency has promised $24 million over the next six years to run an Arctic energy research laboratory at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

The Department of Energy notified Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, of the agreement Friday. Congress, at Murkowski's request, last year established the Office of Arctic Energy and gave it $1 million.

The agreement with UAF offers an outlet for that money in the form of the Arctic Energy Technology Development Laboratory.

Murkowski, in a news release, described the lab as ''a vital element in developing new energy technologies for cold climates.''

The lab will have two investigative tracks, said Dennis Witmer, a UAF research assistant professor in engineering and the center's acting director.

First, it will try to develop alternative and underused Arctic energy sources, which could be anything from the cold oil in the upper levels of the Prudhoe Bay complex to the fuel cells that Witmer has been studying for several years at UAF.

Second, it will investigate better ways to provide power in remote areas of Alaska, where expensive diesel generators dominate.

The lab will focus on working with potential users of its technology, Witmer said. A U.S. Department of Energy official, Brent Sheets, is stationed in Alaska to oversee the startup and is meeting with people to identify needs, Witmer said.

The energy lab will not have its own building at UAF. The work will be spread around existing facilities, Witmer said. The university hopes in coming years to build an engineering research building to host the lab and other work, he said.

The federal money to run the energy lab must be approved by Congress each year, according to Chuck Kleeschulte, Murkowski's spokesman. However, the department's agreement with UAF is essentially a promise to ask for the money in its budget each year, he said.

The department already has $800,000 to start the laboratory.

The agreement requires a 20 percent match from the university, or $6 million over the next six years.

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