Gas cells on mountain tops save Forest Service time and cash –

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There are over 50 radio communication points high up in the mountains of the Chugach and Tongass forests. The US Forest Service uses it to send radio links from one side of the mountains to the other and back to the service dispatch in Anchorage.

The locations are important to the service year round, said Stacy Griffith, radio manager for the Alaska area.

“Most would think it's just for fire,” he said. “And that's not the case. Our avalanche crews, our avalanche teams in Girdwood, rely on them. Our people who travel the Seward Highway. As we all know, the Seward Highway is very dangerous and cell phone service is at best be very spotty. “

The service also has agreements with local first responders so they can use them for communication. The peninsula has locations on Cooper Mountain, Paradise Peak, Mount Madson, and Resurrection Pass.

The batteries that supply the locations with electricity are powered by solar energy. When it snows, the panels are buried and the forest service sends helicopters to clear them, sometimes four times in winter. Not only can this be dangerous for pilots and staff, it can cost nearly $ 30,000 a year.

“We're constantly testing different types of equipment on the mountaintop to see what works best in such extreme environments,” Griffith said.

You finally found a technology that does the job. It is called a “solid oxide fuel cell” and combines a small amount of propane with air for a chemical reaction. This generates electricity to charge the batteries.

“So very little propane is used to ignite it,” he said. The emissions are extremely low and water vapor is released. “

A very small amount of carbon dioxide is also a by-product.

Griffith stumbled upon the cells in 2015 and fell in love with the technology. They only turn on when the solar power isn't working and turn off automatically when the batteries are completely juiced.

The upfront costs associated with the cells are high. Each fuel cell costs about $ 16,000, and the service has to send people to install them.

But the cells ultimately save the service money in the long term, as they do not have to make as many maintenance trips to clear snow.

On average, a cell can be on for 60 hours per year. Each cell is said to last 3,000 hours.

“So on paper, they're essentially supposed to last 49 years,” Griffith said. “Do I now expect a device to last 49 years? No. However, the reliability of these fuel cells is considerable. “

Griffith said other forest service regions in the lower 48 are also interested in incorporating the technology.

The forest service has equipped 21 communication sites with fuel cells, including three of the four on the Kenai Peninsula. Griffith said they hope to install the remaining nine by the summer.


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