Demonstrating the power of renewables in Antarctica

1 November 2017 (Last Updated December 12th, 2017 09:36)

Championing renewable technologies can be done in many different ways, now an expedition to the South Pole aims to prove that they can be used anywhere in order to champion their use everywhere. What renewables will the South Pole Energy Challenge use in one of the harshest places on earth?

Demonstrating the power of renewables in Antarctica
Robert and Barney Swan in training for SPEC. Credit: Courtesy of SPEC

In November, Robert Swan OBE the first explorer to walk both the North and South Poles will set off from Union Glacier, Antarctica, on his latest adventure with his son Barney to reach the Geographic South Pole. Unlike previous expeditions undertaken by Swan or anyone else, The South Pole Energy Challenge (SPEC) will be entirely powered by renewable technologies.

SPEC is the latest effort by the 2041organisation to boost renewables. In 1984, Swan set up 2041, to protect the Antarctic through promotion of recycling, renewable energy and sustainability. The Antarctic Treaty was first implemented in 1961 to ensure that the Antarctic was only used for peaceful purposes, and scientific discovery. The treaty was amended in the 90s to include environmental protocols, designating it a natural reserve and banning mining and drilling. 2041 was established with the aim that by the treaties fiftieth anniversary in 2041, just before its review, there will be enough support to ensure that the continent receives continued protection against exploration.

2041 has been raising awareness and support through a number of projects; however SPEC looks set to be the biggest yet. The team will have to walk 600 miles through one of the most hostile environments on the planet, with high altitudes, high levels of solar radiation and temperatures that reach as low as minus 40 Celsius, relying solely on renewable technologies for essential equipment.

Relying just of renewables

On average a person will use between 200 and 250ml of jet aviation fuel a day during a polar expedition. Four people will be going on the SPEC, Robert and Barney Swan, expedition guide Martin Barnett, and documentary filmmaker Kyle O’Donoghue. Therefore over the course of the expedition, which is estimated to take 60 days, fuel usage could equate to as much as 240 pounds of carbon dioxide.

But instead of tradition jet fuelled equipment, SPEC is using solar technologies and advanced biofuels made out of woodchip waste provided by Shell. These were tested in December 2016 in Antarctica to allow alterations to be made in preparation for the actual expedition.

A Solar Ice Melter, designed by NASA, has been integrated into the sleds to produce drinking water throughout the journey. Solar panels will also power the GoalZero lithium batteries in communication devices and cameras. Biofuel will then be used for cooking and heating.

The biofuel was developed in Bangalore in India at Shell’s Technology Centre specifically for this expedition. Vicky Boiten-Lee, Shell’s Global General Manager Retail Fuels said, “Shell recognises that biofuels along with other renewable energy sources will be important to the world of tomorrow. The advanced biofuels that Robert and Barney will be using will be critical in keeping them warm, dry and fed during this epic expedition.”

The Antarctic is melting at an unprecedented speed, losing 60 cubic kilometres of ice a year as soaring temperature force it to fall into the ocean. Renewable technologies could make a vast difference to global warming if they are quickly and efficiently implemented, and the 2041 team hope that by showing that if they can be relied on in the Antarctic, they can, and should, be relied on everywhere.

“Increasing the use of renewable sources of energy is essential to reducing CO2 emissions,” said Robert Swan. “By putting these clean energies to the test in Antarctica, the Earth’s harshest wilderness, Barney and I want to prove that they can be developed for use anywhere, and therefore play a crucial part in helping the planet transition to a lower-carbon future.”