MISSOULA – Nicholas Fry, a graduate of the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation at the University of Montana, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Iceland during the 2020-21 academic year.
Fry is one of six current and former UM students to earn a Fulbright Scholarship this year. He will use the award to complete his master’s thesis at Reykjavik University’s Iceland School of Energy. Iceland uses geothermal energy widely, and Fry studies how well that model could translate to Montana.
“I am researching geothermal district heating potentials across lower heat-demand density communities in Montana,” he said. “This means, where feasible, Montana towns in proximity to low-temperature resources could convert about 60% of their household energy expenses to lower-cost, non-fossil sources.”
While federal dollars have been continuously appropriated to oil and gas exploration over the last 40 years or more, the last time Montana geothermal resources had similarly scaled investment and investigation was in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Fry said. Materials technology and design have come a long way since then.
“It is up to individual research projects to attempt to close the gap,” he said. “I hope my effort contributes to that equalization and potential realization that low-cost clean energy is right in our backyards.”
In contrast, he said, Iceland has never stopped government funding of geothermal exploration since the 1970s oil crises. The country now enjoys geothermal district heating across most of the country, with a further 30% of their electricity generation originating from higher temperature geothermal reservoirs.
“Iceland’s clean energy transition, largely based out of necessity, has increased national energy security and directly correlates with its rise to the top of world-wide individual income rankings,” Fry said. “Where we source our energy matters, and I hope to learn the good and bad from the Icelandic energy model.”
Fry and his partner, Holly Gumz, a Montana State University graduate, left for Iceland a year ago. He started training in energy sciences, economics and engineering, and she works as a nurse at the national hospital.
“We have learned to enjoy longer winters, a new language and Nordic hospitality,” he said. “We are very grateful for how much of an impact Montana has had on our lives and hope to find our way back someday soon.”
Fry and the other recipients continue UM’s legacy of securing Fulbright Scholarships, said Clint Walker, the UM Fulbright adviser and an associate professor of Russian.
“We had a 50% success rate this year,” Walker said. “This percentage is well above the national average and speaks to the high quality of our UM applicants for Fulbrights.”
The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide.
For more information about the Fulbright Program, visit https://us.fulbrightonline.org/.