Bernie Karl - The Crazy Alaskan
Posted: February 17, 2011 04:00 PM
Carbon Nation: Meet the Crazy Alaskan
In case you haven't seen Carbon Nation yet, I'm the guy they call the crazy Alaskan, Bernie Karl. Who is Bernie Karl? Bernie Karl is the sixth of 16 children born to the same mom and dad. Let's just say that I know a thing or two about competing for resources -- imagine all of us at the dinner table. It may not be identical to the competition for resources in the larger sense, but it's a good way to get a sense of just what scarcity of resources can mean. With a thirst for oil far outpacing our growing world population, scarcity is not simply a far-off prediction, but a soon to be apparent reality.
We have only one life, one Earth, one chance to do things right. I strongly believe in and advocate for good stewardship of the planet we all share. With that being said, where others may see problems, I see opportunities. We, all of us, need to reinvent ourselves to be good stewards and see things in a new light. I like to practice what I preach, and that's why my wife, Connie Parks-Karl, and I decided to buy Chena Hot Springs and develop the geothermal resource. It may sound simple, but developing a geothermal power plant is no easy task. The temperature of the springs was considered unusable with current technology at the time (1998).
My mama raised ugly kids, not dumb ones: I never let anyone tell me that something can't be done. Can't simply isn't in my vocabulary. They said it couldn't be done with current technology, so I had to find a way to spur the development of the new technology. After some time researching my options, I received a phone call from United Technologies. Having not had the pleasure of doing business with them before, I honestly had no idea who they were. After citing some of their credentials, I started taking the call a little more seriously. They were interested in developing a low-temperature geothermal power plant that could operate using the low-temperature resource that we had at Chena Hot Springs, 163°F.
That's the story of how the PureCycle© unit came to be developed at Chena Hot Springs Resort, 57 miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska. But we didn't stop there. We also wanted to use our excess heat to experiment with growing crops in the sub-arctic conditions of Interior Alaska. Working with the University of Alaska Fairbanks, we built the furthest north year-round production greenhouse in the world. When it's -50°F outside at Chena Hot Springs, we're still growing lettuce, tomatoes and other various crops in our temperature controlled greenhouse.
Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." I consider Chena Hot Springs to be, not just a resort, but an experimental workshop where imagination and engineering meet. We're imagineering new ways to face the growing needs for energy and food in an uncertain world. We're looking at new ways to observe nature and mimic the perfection, biomimicry. Nature will reveal all her secrets to us, we simply have to listen.