My Trip to the Land of Fire and Ice Part 1: Running on Renewables

My Trip to the Land of Fire and Ice Part 1: Running on Renewables

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Julianne Troiano // 24 November 2015 // #GoingGreen

This past summer I did something incredible. I hopped on a plane to Iceland and spent ten days learning about a land made of volcanoes, waterfalls, and glaciers, and the renewable energy technologies that fuel its people’s everyday life. From the scenery, to the food, to the unexpected presence of elves and trolls in Icelandic culture, there are tons of experiences that I could blog about from this trip. But I want to tell you about the moment when I realized just how important education, community, and science are to the world. First though, let’s talk about Iceland. 


          Iceland is a unique place. It sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the boundary that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which are moving away from one another at a rate of 2 cm per year. This causes a lot of geological activity (volcanoes!). You can even walk and snorkel at points in the fault line throughout the country! Iceland is also located just below the Arctic Circle, meaning that glaciers cover 11% of the country. This makes for a pretty amazing landscape that includes volcanoes, glaciers, hot springs, and waterfalls—the Land of Fire and Ice. This also means that Iceland has access to hydro- and geothermal power, which are renewable energy technologies used to generate electricity and provide hot water and heat.


photo1The Mid Atlantic Ridge in Thingvellir National Park. The wall in the distance (actually “The Wall” from Game of Thrones!) is the North American plate and the near wall is the Eurasian plate.


          In short, Iceland runs completely off of renewable energy (except for transportation) through the use of hydro- and geothermal power. Hydropower plants use the flow of water and geothermal power plants use steam to turn the blades of a turbine, which spin a generator, and produce electricity. Geothermal water is also used directly as a hot water and heating source for houses, businesses, and schools.



 Outside and inside the first large-scale hydropower plant built in Iceland.


          Research is also being done to develop greener transportation. We actually visited a farm that is growing rapeseed, which is used to produce canola oil to use as fuel, as part of a research effort studying how to make greener fuels. We poured some of this fuel into our bus and I can happily say that our bus ran just fine throughout the trip! Even the byproduct of producing canola oil, canola meal (see video below) has a purpose-it is food for the animals on the farm!



Here you see the production of canola meal, which is a byproduct when producing the canola oil for fuel. The canola meal is used to feed the animals on the farm. We all ate some!


          I was in awe of this country that harnesses the power of the Earth to bring hot water, heat, and electricity to homes, businesses, and schools, and is working at making transportation greener. Yet on day eight of my trip I felt a rush of emotions, from sad to a bit angry, but eventually I felt inspired. And this is the day and the moment that I would like to share with you. For this week I will leave you with one last photo of Iceland, but come back next week to find out what happened on day eight of my trip! 



          Gunnuhver, Iceland. A highly active geothermal area of mud pools and steam vents on the southwest part of the Reykjanes Peninsula. The steam generated in natural hot springs like these can be used to generate electricity and even be used as hot water, which eliminates the need to use energy to heat the water!

Julianne Troiano is a graduate student at the Center for Chemical Innovation on Sustainable Nanotechnology (CSN) at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Julianne is interested in environmental science and has experience as a blogger ( She recently travelled to Iceland to study glaciers and alternative energy and will share her experiences with us.