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Power generation in remote areas: The Sotacarbo experience for a technology demonstration in Alaska

Power generation in remote areas is known to be a problem quite difficult to solve. Fuel supply issues and limited links with the main power grids frequently involve the use of robust and reliable technologies, such as old-generation diesel engines, typically characterized by a significant environmental impact. This problem is particularly relevant in some specific areas, such as Alaska, sensible to the environmental issues, with a very stringent emission legislation.

A possible solution to this problem is represented by modular gasification systems, characterized by a wide flexibility – capable to follow the changes of electrical energy demand – and fed with easily accessible local fuels.

The commercial-scale demonstration of such a system is the scope of the so-called Alaska Syngas Project, co-funded by the U.S. Government and managed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF). The project aims to replace an old diesel-based power generation plant with a modular gasification unit integrated with syngas engines, to feed the UAF Campus in Fairbanks. A very ambitious project based on a fixed-bed up-draft gasification technology originally developed in the United States in the early 80s by Hamilton Maurer International (HMI) for coal-fired power generation. And recently experimentally tuned by Sotacarbo (thanks to an over ten years collaboration with HMI itself) for power generation from biomass.

Now these improvements, together with the operation experience gained years ago in the United States and more recently in Sardinia, have been used for a front-end engineering design of the power generation plant that will be constructed in Alaska. A joint study that comes from a close collaboration between the University of Alaska Fairbanks, HMI, Worley Group, Hobbs Industries, Aurora Energy, Golden Valley Electric Association and the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) – research organization of the U.S. Department of Energy and one of the most important in the world – together with Sotacarbo.

The results of the preliminary study – premiered during the CCT 2019 conference in Houston (Texas, USA) last June – have been not published in the prestigious international journal “Fuel”, edited by Elsevier. They show that energy and environmental performance of such a plant can allow a very clean power generation in compliance with the restrictive emission limits of Alaska. And confirm again the international interest towards the research activities carried out by Sotacarbo.