Did You Know … Europe’s Largest Banana Producer Is Not Who You Think?
Did you know .... Europe's largest banana producer is not who you think?
One of the northernmost countries in the world is not the first place that comes to mind when you think about bananas. This tropical fruit is commonly associated with places near the equator: warm, temperate climates. However, thanks to greenhouses powered by geothermal energy, Icelanders are proving that delicious bananas can be grown anywhere.
Due to cold climate and limited sunlight, it would be impossible to grow bananas in this environment, if attempted outdoors. So, they thrive in temperature-controlled, artificially lit greenhouses that provide them with year-round favorable conditions.
Iceland is known for its natural geothermal activity. The locals have been using the heat for many years, ever since the Vikings settled in the country in the 9th century. Originally just used for bathing and washing clothes, as technology advanced, Icelanders continued to find new ways to use the heat, including heating homes, pools, and greenhouses. In fact, one of the major greenhouse plantations is located in Hveragerði, which means “hot springs garden”.
Bananas aren’t the only warm-weather plant found growing in the land of fire and ice. Researchers have successfully attempted to produce many other plants on the island as well, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, coffee, cocoa, and avocados.
While these bananas are not commercially viable to grow and sell, the farmers keep producing them as a hobby. Incidentally, there may be other significant benefits to having isolated banana farms since the bananas grown there are not susceptible to Panama Disease. The disease is caused by a fungus that is impacting the yellow fruit all over the world. This isolation could help save certain types of bananas from diseases that could wipe them out.
The bananas grown in Hveragerði and other geothermal plantations around Iceland make the country the largest producer of bananas in Europe. Although the Spanish territory of the Canary Islands grows more bananas, they’re technically a part of Africa, leaving Iceland to take the top spot. Europe in general is too far north to grow many warm-weather crops, but thanks to geothermal developments, Iceland is proving that nothing is impossible.
Did You Know … the story of the snake, the fish, and the toad?
Did you know… the story of the 'hot' snake, the fish, and the toad?
Tucked away in different corners of the planet, there are animals with unique adaptations that allow them to thrive in some rather surprising environments. Despite the extreme conditions and challenges, certain species are even able to make hot waters their permanent home.
Take for example the Tibetan Hot-Spring snake. This snake is exactly what it sounds like: a snake that lives in the hot springs of Tibet, high in the mountains, where the weather is very cold. Like other reptiles, snakes are ectothermic, or cold blooded, meaning they do not regulate their own body temperature and rely on the external environment to do so. Most reptiles will sunbathe or hide underground to stay warm, but the Tibetan Hot-Spring snake achieves the same outcome in a rather unusual way. By living in the warm waters of the natural hot springs occurring in the area, these amazing reptiles can stay heated year-round.
The Hot-Spring snake has a special adaptation found in their genome; a gene called EPAS1. This gene makes them much more sensitive to heat sources as compared to their close relatives, allowing them to seek out the hot water much more easily. They have been observed leaving hot springs to travel to rivers and colder lakes to feed on the fish and other small creatures living there, and then navigating back to the hot springs afterwards using their heat-seeking senses.
These snakes aren’t the only animals that are able to survive and thrive in hot waters - a small species of fish in Mexico can live in super-hot water up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The Julimes pupfish lives full-time in the area’s hot springs, earning it the title of “the world’s hottest fish.” These pupfish could be considered “extremophiles”, animals who are able to tolerate very harsh conditions. Imagine living your whole life hotter than the hottest hot tub!
Finally, there is the Dixie Valley toad. This toad has specifically adapted to survive in the warm waters around the Dixie Valley in a remote area near Reno, Nevada. When it was discovered and described in 2017, it became the only new species of toad discovered in the US in nearly 50 years.
Most toads spend the colder months underground in burrows so that they don’t freeze along with the water around them. The Dixie Valley toad doesn’t burrow, instead it remains in the warm springs all winter long. The toads prefer the warm water over any other options for heat that may be available to them. It must work for them, since they have been thriving in the springs for thousands of years.
These animals are great examples of how even though conditions may be harsh and seemingly inhospitable, it’s good to remember the timeless words of Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: “Life finds a way.”
Did You Know … you could have a swig of geothermal rum in the near future?
Did you know ... that you could have a swig of geothermal rum in the near future?
In Cornwall, United Kingdom, Matthew Clifford has big dreams to start up a rum distillery powered solely by the natural geothermal resources. Alcohol distillation takes up a lot of energy, so Clifford decided that he would attempt to power his idea with the heat from under the ground.
In the rum production process, energy is expended 24/7 and the need to keep everything temperature controlled can be extremely intensive over the long period of time that’s required to produce alcohol. Therefore, the Celsius Project had the idea to power the process with geothermal energy. Geothermal is available around the clock regardless of outdoor conditions or energy shortages, perfectly fitting the needs for distilling alcohol.
In Cornwall, the rocks under ground are hotter than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, which is why Clifford targeted that area for his project. The Celsius Project plans to use the heat from the “hot rocks” to heat the buildings needed for production and storage. They also have plans to use the “waste heat”, which is the by-product of turning the energy generated from the geothermal power into electricity. Their goal is to produce zero-carbon renewable power once the site is up and running.
Unfortunately, the project ran into a bit of a snag which has forced the owner to look for a different location. The original project site at the United Downs in Cornwall has been in disrepair for many years and has partially been used as a landfill. Although the plan was originally approved, the proposal received resistance when fans of stock car racing stepped in. A portion of United Downs is a raceway beloved by many racing fans in the area. The Cornwall Council stepped in and told Clifford he could not build the distillery there, despite already having received approval a few months prior.
Now, the Celsius Project is without a home. There has not been a new site chosen yet, and the project has moved into a smaller version of itself inside a handful of shipping containers, which are currently housed near Penryn. While a geothermal rum toast for New Year’s 2023 was unavailable, if Clifford is able to find a new location to permanently house the project and get it off the ground, there may be a chance ‘hot’ rum could be available for New Year’s Day, 2024.
We’ll drink to that!
Did You Know … that Scottish clubbers use dance beat to generate heat
Did you know ... that Scottish clubbers use dance beat to generate heat?
In Glasgow, Scotland, dancers are taking “the heat beneath their feet” to a whole new level. An innovative technology is able to harness the energy produced by dancing clubbers and turn it into a way to heat the building.
The SWG3 nightclub has committed to going net-zero carbon emissions by 2025, and their plan for a one-of-a-kind heat pump system is a huge part of that. After being concerned with their emissions output, the nightclub’s management started to think of ways that they could reduce their footprint. After lots of meetings and planning, one idea became this new heat pump system, now known as Bodyheat.
Bodyheat works by taking the hot air inside the venue, generated by the movement of dancing clubbers, and pumping it underground. The heat is used to warm up a carrier fluid, which is then sent through a series of pipes into twelve 500-foot-deep boreholes and stored in a rock serving as a thermal battery. A typical cooling system would take the hot air and pump it outside into the atmosphere, but SWG3 puts that heat underground instead.
When it’s time to use it. the heat travels back into the pipes, back up above ground to the heat pumps, and used to heat the event spaces and provide hot water for the venue. SWG3 is used as an art display gallery and office space during daytime hours, which is when the heat, created by the clubbers, is used.
The nightclub invested about $670,000 into developing and installing this technology, but SWG3 projects that the savings on energy bills can offset that cost in about five years, saving them money in the long run.
David Townsend, founder of TownRock Energy, a company that helped develop Bodyheat, says that different types of music can generate different levels of energy. For example, the Rolling Stones are considered a middle-of-the-pack producer. One can get about 250 watts over the course of a song when playing the Stones. An experienced DJ could get up to 600 watts with the right song at the right time. The more excited and into the music the crowd gets, the more energy is available for harvesting.
Storing the energy produced by the movement of the body could be revolutionary. A similar system could be implemented in places like gyms, indoor sporting events, concert venues, or anywhere else where people are dancing or jumping up and down.
In terms of moving SWG3 towards their carbon-neutral goal, the Bodyheat system could reduce the nightclub’s outputs by around 60-70%. SWG3 is completely eliminating their gas boilers because of it. If the technology could be implemented in other locations around the world, it could help reduce the total amount of resources spent on heating buildings and allow the world to lower its carbon footprint.
Did You Know … there is a mystical reason to travel to Monroe, Utah
Did you know… there is a mystical reason to travel to Monroe, Utah – the Mystic Hot Springs!
The Mystic Hot Springs are naturally occurring geothermal pools in Central Utah, about a three hour drive south from Salt Lake City. They have been used ever since the Indigenous People, including the Ute, Piute and Shoshone tribes, discovered them long before settlers came to the area. The Native Americans made camps near hot springs, taking advantage of the warm ground to help keep them warm on cold winter nights.
Since the hot springs were located along the Old Spanish Trail, a trade route linking New Mexico to California, settlers stopped to rest and rejuvenate in the warm waters. In 1886, Thomas Cooper homesteaded the hot springs, and in 1905 opened the first bathhouse, eventually adding guest cabins and even a dance hall.
The resort’s modern incarnation was created by a man named Mike Ginsburg, otherwise known as “Mystic Mike”. Ginsburg was traveling back to Denver in his bus in 1995 when he came across what is now the Mystic Hot Springs. Ginsburg and his wife purchased the resort and run it to this day.
In keeping with its history, “Mystic Mike” still offers overnight stays, campsites, concerts, and other events. There is also a menagerie of animals like peacocks, an emu, a llama and six ponds with a wide variety of fish, including tropical varieties thanks to the proximity of the thermal waters. He has added a vintage school bus repurposed as an overnight cabin.
As part of a restoration project currently underway at Mystic Hot Springs, historic cabins from across the surrounding valley are acquired, moved to the site and lovingly brought back to life. Known as the Pioneer Village, it currently has 15 cabins in different stages of their restoration, and fitted with more modern accommodations than were available at the time they served as a settler’s home!
The thermal waters contain a high amount of calcium carbonate, which forms the big mounds of minerals you see around the pools. The calcium carbonate precipitates from evaporation of hot spring and hardens to form a colorful material called travertine, which is a type of limestone.
Unlike is most hot springs, the H2S gas is not as prominent, so the springs don’t have the distinctive “rotten egg” smell. Bathers can choose between individual bathtubs or larger pools to enjoy the naturally hot water, which runs between 99 and 100 degrees F, while admiring the colorful formations around them.
The Mystic Hot Springs are another example of geothermal waters being used by people across the ages. From Indigenous People to pioneers to modern day campers, they’ve all experienced everything this unique environment has to offer.
Did You Know that renewable energy corridors can be the future of energy production?
Did You Know… Renewable Energy Corridors Can Be the Future of Energy Production?
In the Escalante desert of southwestern Utah, near the town of Milford, there are four different types of renewable energy: wind, solar, biogas, and geothermal. They’re all being used to produce energy at the same time. The co-location and concentration of such diverse renewable resources in the North Milford Valley is unique, and it serves as a model of what other renewable energy corridors might be able to achieve around the country.
Beaver County is sunnier than 88% of the counties in the United States, so it’s no wonder that solar farms have been built there to capture the power of sunshine! The solar panels cover three square miles in total and produce approximately 620,000 megawatt hours (mwh) of electricity yearly. As for wind generation, the 30-mile long North Milford Valley funnels the prevailing south to north air flow. To harvest this energy, Utah’s largest wind farm, made up of 155 wind turbines, also generates approximately 620,000 mwh. But wind and solar generation are relative newcomers compared to geothermal energy, which has been running since 1984 and providing about 250,000 mwh of electricity yearly. Geothermal resources require special geological circumstances, and these were identified in the vicinity of Roosevelt Hot Springs in the 1970s. The Blundell power plant is the sole geothermal producer in the Renewable Energy Corridor, but work is underway to test a new type of geothermal resource, Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS), nearby at Utah FORGE.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is created from the breakdown of animal waste. In fact, 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions globally are from livestock! By capturing the methane emissions from the decomposition of manure, instead of letting it be released directly into the atmosphere, it can instead be turned into a renewable form of natural gas. In this corridor there are 26 hog farms, making enough biogas to heat 3,000 homes. A natural gas pipeline running through the area provides a convenient way to transport this biogas out of the rural location and into more urban areas, where it can be used for heating.
What potential exists across the country to create similar renewable corridors? There are two equally crucial elements needed: the resources, and the infrastructure. For example, there are large swaths of land in the plains of North Dakota with great wind energy resources. But there are no transmission lines to run the electricity generated from the sparsely populated areas where the demand is low, to large population centers where it can be used. To harvest that wind, hundreds of miles of transmission lines would have to be built.
These renewable corridors have many benefits over single resource areas. The Renewable Energy Corridor in Beaver County supplies both electricity and natural gas, which is used to heat homes and cook food. Additionally, wind power can generate power at night, and solar can generate power when there is no wind. Whereas wind and solar are both dependent on weather conditions, geothermal can operate all day, every day. There may even be the option in the future to use geothermal as a battery for the intermittent renewables, or waste heat from the geothermal power plant could be used to promote biogas production in winter when the cold temperatures slow it down.
If there’s more solar and wind energy being generated than is being used at a given time, that excess energy could be stored as heat in the ground, to be extracted later. This balances out the supply and demand sides of the grid.
Factors to consider:
- Resource (sun, wind, geothermal)
- Space (physical space, distance from people (fumes, odor, noise, etc.))
- Site access (set-up and maintenance)
- Grid/pipeline connection
- Environment (won’t impact groundwater, endangered species, cause erosion, etc.)
A MW hour is the actual electricity generated. Same as the kw hour on your electricity bill. The total capacity of the turbine, rated in MW, assumes 100% performance. The turbine doesn’t spin all the time.
Did You Know that China is home to one of the oldest known geothermal pools in the world?
Did you know… that China is home to one of the oldest known geothermal pools in the world?
Huaqing Pool, located near Mount Li in the province of Shaanxi, China, has a long and storied history. The complex of hot springs has been in use for close to three millennia and was a famous getaway spot for multiple Chinese emperors. The ancient Chinese utilized the natural geothermal activity in the area for cleaning and bathing. Today geothermal energy is widely developed in China primarily for direct use and district heating. Moreover, the source of this heat relates to a dynamic geological history that includes the collision of continental plates which produced the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau.
The pools at Huaqing make up a large hot spring complex. The first stone pool was built during the Qin Dynasty from 206 BC to 220 AD, but the history of the site dates back even further, to the Western Zhou Dynasty, from 1046 to 771 BC. King You built the Li Palace in that era to enjoy the natural beauty, starting a long history of many emperors coming to visit. The area has been expanded since the original little stone pool was first constructed back in the Qin Dynasty. Today the site comprises many pools, historical sites, and even a daily performance! It’s a full-fledged tourist destination.
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow is a show performed daily during the warm months, between April and October. It tells the love story of Emperor Xuanzong and Yang Guifei, with over 300 actors in extravagant costumes. It is also home to the beautiful Nine Dragon Lake. The glassy water surrounds nine stone dragon carvings and is home to Koi fish.
The five historical hot springs on the main site are not available for public use, but there are plenty of hotels and resorts in the surrounding area that are open to everyone. It’s easy to enjoy a day at the Huaqing Pools, learning about the long history of the area, before heading back to your resort to experience the same waters that the ancient Chinese emperors did thousands of years ago.
Did You Know NZ is home to geothermal golf course?
Did you know… New Zealand is home to a geothermal golf course?
Arikikapakapa is not your typical golf course. Located in Rotorua, New Zealand, the 18-hole course is referred to as a geothermal golfing experience. Along with the naturally abundant plant life, the geothermal activity in the area provides a beautiful landscape around the course. Steam vents can be seen while golfing, either from the Pohutu geyser, located nearby, or from the course itself!
The golf course is one of the oldest in the country, with roots dating back to 1902. The name Arikikapakapa comes from the Te Reo Māori (the language of New Zealand Māori) and means “the gentle sound of plopping mud”, which is a sound often heard by golfers while they play. The course is also referred to as the Rotorua Golf Club.
The course is a great place to go to relax and enjoy the geothermal atmosphere. The course owners publish a newsletter frequently, giving updates on the course and what’s going on at Arikikapakapa. The newsletter also includes some of the recent top scores from the course and results from the tournaments they host there.
Around the course, there are pools of boiling hot water. The water often steams up the course due to how hot it is. Dormant areas where there is no longer geothermal activity have been incorporated into the obstacles and challenges of this unique golf course.
The pumice rock present in the soil means that the grass can recover from rain quickly, as the water drains out faster than usual. Golfers can play even after it rains!
The Rotorua Golf Club blends geothermal activity with golf in a fun and interesting way. It brings a unique experience to the Central North Island of New Zealand. Good luck finding another golf course quite like this one! As it happens, you only have to drive down the road to find one in Wairakei and the other in Taupo. What a haven for geothermal golf.
Golfers enjoying the course in 1970 (Image via Flickr)
Did you know… there is a geothermal “ocean” in Utah?
Did you know... there is a geothermal “ocean” in Utah?
Just 30 minutes from Salt Lake City is Utah’s very own “ocean”. Built out of natural hot springs is the Bonneville Seabase, where you can go snorkeling and scuba diving! You will also find many different types of tropical fish during your underwater expedition.
Seabase gets its name from Lake Bonneville, a massive lake that covered the western half of Utah, and parts of Idaho and Nevada until about 13,000 years ago. The owners of Seabase, Linda Nelson and George Sanders, bought the land in 1988. Back then, it was a muddy marsh land covered in garbage. Today there are four areas to train and test your diving skills.
The first is White Rock Bay. It is the best place to see the tropical fish that live at Bonneville. Due to multiple warm springs located there, White Rock Bay The best time to see all of the fish is during the winter months, as that is where they congregate to keep warm.
Second is Habitat Bay. The pool is a man-made area underwater where air used to be pumped in so people could breathe while diving. While air is not being pumped into the pool continuously anymore, a diver can request for it to be filled up temporarily. The pool also has a sunken boat that is used for training and platforms that are 24 ft (~7 m) deep which makes them perfect for open-water scuba training.
Next is the Trench. The Trench is where Seabase is kept natural. While it is somewhat shallow, there is an abundance of fauna and natural biology. Due to its length, the Trench is a great place to practice your fin kicks and swim some “laps”!
Finally, there is the Abyss. While it is 62 ft (~19 m) deep, it has been altitude adjusted to 84 ft (~26 m). The Abyss was built for deep water training and is a good place to try out your buoyancy skills. It is also great for learning about safety stops, the importance of buddy diving, and night/limited visibility skills.
As mentioned before, Bonneville Seabase has an abundance of marine life! The “ocean” has fish of all shapes and sizes, from the 50-pound grouper to the little mollies. They have schools of pinfish and two friendly cortez angels. While you are exploring the waters, you might also find butterfly fish, snappers, mullet, black drum, jacks, tunicates, grunts, and more!
Did you know… geothermal energy is growing flowers?
Did you know... geothermal energy is growing flowers?
Newcastle, Utah is home to Milgro Nursery – and they use geothermal energy to power their greenhouses! In fact, their facility is one of the most successful geothermal energy applications for space heating in the United States.
Milgro Nursery first opened in 1980 in Oxnard, California, before opening a second location in Newcastle, Utah in 1991. It is a family-owned business and is one of the largest growers of chrysanthemums and poinsettias, along with various other plants, in the United States. They also grow a large variety of blooming plants, green plants, and succulents. Currently, the greenhouses grow over seven million potted plants per year. Milgro provides its plants to Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joe’s, and other major retailers.
The Newcastle greenhouses are located in a desert in southwestern Utah, along the southeast edge of the Escalante Valley. The desert has an elevation of around 5,300 ft (~1615 m), making it a prime location for geothermal heating. The combination of the geothermal system present and the relatively harsh outdoor weather conditions allows Milgro to manufacture almost any growing environment. High sunlight, cool temperatures, and geothermal energy make it cheaper to heat up the greenhouses than it is to use air conditioning to cool them down.
Though Milgro is located in a semi-arid desert, they are able to create humidity within the greenhouses. Had the greenhouses been located in a humid environment, it would be almost impossible to remove that humidity. The desert’s ample amount of sunlight also allows Milgro a more cost-effective control of crop lighting, given it is cheaper and easier to block light rather than create it. The location’s climate and Milgro’s use of geothermal energy assists in eliminating the use of fossil fuels, protecting the quality of the air, and conserving water.
During the first wave of the pandemic, millions of orders for Milgro plants were canceled, leaving with a massive amount of inventory – flowers that would only stay alive for a limited amount of time. To keep the flowers from going to waste, Milgro gave some to the residents of local nursing homes, hospital staff, and teachers – all for free! A personal friend of Milgro owner Cherilyn Smith, Jim Castimore, even drove a truck full of Milgro flowers to New York City and New Jersey.
Whatever the occasion, Milgro will have the geothermally-grown plants for you!
Milgro flowers at Trader Joe's.