Sci-Friday: New project intends to turn spruce beetle killed forest into greenhouse fuel

Published: Nov. 27, 2020 at 4:10 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -For this Sci-Friday we take a look at a developing agricultural project where a University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) graduate student from Nenana is developing greenhouses heated year-round with spruce beetle-killed trees.

“In Alaska food security is a major issue, and I think we all see that with COVID when store shelves go empty,” said Eva Burk, master of science student at UAF.

Climate change has impacted the life cycle of Alaskan spruce beetles, producing a multitude of infested dead trees. Burk hopes to make use of this resource.

“Why climate change has affected spruce beetles is typically we get into a deep freeze. Typically those spruce beetles don’t have the reproductive activity over the winter. Well that wasn’t the case the winter of 2018. That was a really really warm winter, and so that perpetuated this beetle kill problem,” said Burk.

Once they reach this stage, the wood is no longer useful as a building material, and poses a forest fire hazard. But the wood can be put to another use as raw biomass to heat buildings such as greenhouses.

Outside view
Outside view(UAF)

“This greenhouse can be a stand alone structure. It will be heated by biomass which is renewable energy, so it can be heated year round. You can use renewable energy for heat and electricity so that you’re more sustainable over the long term,” said Burk.

Biomass greenhouse boiler
Biomass greenhouse boiler(UAF)

Burk hopes the project will increase food security and lower the high grocery prices in Alaska Native communities.

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