“Princess Elisabeth Antarctica” is the first and still the only zero emission polar research station powered exclusively by wind and solar energy. For 13 years now, the station has served international scientists as a base for their field research. It was initiated, planned and built by the International Polar Foundation (IPF), which is now celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Research in Antarctica generally leaves a significant environmental footprint because of the high energy requirements. Several stations already use renewable energy, but still depend on fossil fuels to meet energy needs for research and heat production.
The Belgian station “Princess Elisabeth Antarctica”, on the other hand, was planned and developed as an emission-free station from the very beginning. After two Antarctic summers of construction, it was inaugurated in February 2009 and has since offered international polar researchers the opportunity to carry out their projects in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner during the summer months (November to February). It remains the global benchmark for reducing the environmental footprint in polar research.
“We established the International Polar Foundation 20 years ago to educate the public about the importance of polar research in understanding climate change and what each individual can do to live more sustainably,” said Alain Hubert, chairman and founder of the International Polar Foundation, in a press release. “As a zero-emission platform that supports scientific research, the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica station has been the Foundation’s proudest achievement.”
The International Polar Foundation supports not only polar research, which is its main focus, but also innovative projects that seek more sustainable solutions for polar research.
The “Princess Elisabeth Antarctica” station was designed as a prototype and is continuously optimized. Recent improvements in power generation, energy management and water treatment systems now allow the facility to accommodate 50 people at a time. The energy is generated by nine wind turbines (54kW peak capacity) and 284 photovoltaic solar panels (420 kWh per day). Hot water needed in the station is provided by 30 solar thermal panels. The generated energy is stored in 192 lead-acid batteries.
The station’s intelligent microgrid and automatic energy management system are revolutionary. The programmable logic controller determines the priorities for energy use in the station. “Ensuring smart energy management is existential for the polar station,” said David Orgaz, CEO of Schneider Electric Belgium and the Netherlands. “Our teams were involved in the design of what would become the world’s first microgrid. Energy produced by windmills and solar panels is either stored in batteries or used immediately. Maintaining a balance between what is produced and what is consumed is crucial, thereby minimizing the station’s energy usage and eliminating energy waste.”
According to Orgaz, the findings from the “Princess Elisabeth Antarctica” could be applied to the rest of the world. “If we can build a net zero research station in the most extreme environment on Earth, I know that we have everything it takes to bring our own cities, buildings, and industries on a net zero trajectory, and reach the objectives as set forth by the European Union in its ‘Fit for 55’ program.”
One of the challenges that remains to be addressed is reducing the footprint of transporting scientists, technicians, and guides to their research sites, as well as powering scientific equipment on site. A first step has already been taken with “Venturi Antarctica”, the first electrically powered polar research vehicle. Commissioned by Prince Albert II of Monaco, “Venturi Antarctica” was delivered to the station in December 2021 and was in the field over the past summer.
The scientists conducting research at the station are also pleased that the innovative measures are reducing the environmental impact of their work. “As scientists, we go to Antarctica to study climate change, so we really need to look after the environment when doing our research,” explained Kate Winter, a lecturer in extreme environments at Northumbria University, who spent two years on the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica conducting research on bioavailable iron. “In this regard, the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is a fantastic research facility. They’re able to maintain a warm, comfortable research station in a place where it gets down to -40C without using fossil fuels. We can even charge all of our research equipment with zero-emission energy that’s produced there.”
The International Polar Foundation continues to work with its partners on improvements to the station and will test innovative technologies and ideas to make scientific research at the world’s first zero emission polar research station even more sustainable.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Link to the “Princess Elisabeth Antarctica”: http://www.antarcticstation.org
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