Juneau marine lab recognized for seawater heat pump

TSMRI heat pump pipes

Seawater pipes for heat pump system at Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute. File photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO News

The White House Council of Environmental Quality announced on Tuesday that the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute in Juneau is the winner of a GreenGov Presidential Award for its efforts to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

“It was a big deal. It was a very, very big deal,” said Phil Mundy, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research facility at Point Lena. He said that TSMRI’s facilities program manager John Cooper accepted the award at the White House on Tuesday.

TSMRI was this year’s winner in the Lean, Clean, and Green category in the GreenGov Awards. Judges singled out the TSMRI’s seawater intake system that is routinely pumped into the NOAA laboratory for research activities. It has also been tapped as a heat source to replace the oil-fired heating system and reduce carbon emissions at the 66,000 square foot facility.

Mundy says the seawater heat pump was a two-year project that was completed in-house a few years ago by the facility’s own maintenance staff with help from an engineering firm, Alaska Energy Engineering.

It is cold water. The water is 38 degrees Fahrenheit when it reaches the heat pump system, and when it’s discharged it’s about 34 degrees. It’s not how cold the water is, but it’s the heat content of the water. Essentially, in taking it from 38 degrees to 34 degrees, there is an enormous amount of heat in a quart of water (which) you extract when you take it down four degrees. It’s really the difference in temperatures and not the absolute temperatures as long as it’s above freezing, of course.”

John Cooper and Jim Rehfeldt

TSMRI facilities program manager John Cooper and Jim Rehfeldt of Alaska Energy Engineering talk about the lab’s seawater heat pump system. File photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO News

Mundy could not immediately recall how much the refit cost, but he expects the heat pump system to pay for itself in about 10 years. He said it saves them about $240,000 to $500,000 each year depending on the number of degree days and the severity of the winter.

That’s a substantial amount of money. Of course, with heating oil running between $4 and $5 a gallon, every gallon we save is money in the bank.”

The oil-fired system will be retained as a back-up heating system.

This year’s winners of the GreenGov awards feature eight individuals, agencies, and facilities that have reduced energy use and carbon pollution, or curbed waste and saved taxpayer money.


Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute at Point Lena. Photo courtesy NOAA

“It’s a Presidential Award that they can take back to the facility with them, signed by the President,” said Jon Powers, the Federal Environmental Executive who helps oversee the President’s Sustainability Initiative.

“We had the President’s Chief of Staff and the chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality there to honor them yesterday,” said Powers.

Powers said they had 200 nominees for the GreenGov awards this year. The various submissions were reviewed by a judging panel of federal experts and representatives from non-governmental organizations.

Early on, the President called on the Federal government to lead by example in the areas of energy and sustainability. He gave us some very distinct goals on things like greenhouse gas reduction, increasing our renewable energy use, better energy management or water management, waste management. Every year, we work with the agencies to help figure out strategies for them to improve their operations, and find ways to be more efficient and sort of drive toward these goals. It’s very similar to work that is done in a lot of private sector companies as they’re trying to find more ways to be more efficient in their work as well.”

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NOAA’s TSMRI facility goes green

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