Unprecedented achievement: continuous electricity generation in Antarctica

The Public University of Navarra (UPNA) has innovated electricity production in Antarctica through geothermal technology, ensuring continuous monitoring and reducing maintenance

A research team from the Public University of Navarre (UPNA), part of the Institute of Smart Cities (ISC), has achieved a global first by generating continuous electrical energy in Antarctica. This breakthrough was accomplished by harnessing the natural geothermal heat of the subsoil, released through volcanic fumaroles.

Innovations in thermal and fluid engineering

Led by Professor David Astrain Ulibarrena, the Thermal and Fluid Engineering group developed a groundbreaking technology, marking significant progress in real-time monitoring of geological and volcanic phenomena. During the ongoing Antarctic campaign, which takes advantage of the southern summer for scientific research, an UPNA expedition field-tested this innovative technology on Deception Island, one of the continent’s active volcanoes.

UPNA’s thermoelectric modules

The core of UPNA’s research focuses on the use of Seebeck effect thermoelectric modules, which convert geothermal heat into electrical energy requiring both a hot and a cold side. This temperature difference was achieved through the development of high-efficiency heat exchangers capable of transferring geothermal heat from the ground to the thermoelectric module with minimal temperature loss. The geothermal thermoelectric generators created do not require moving parts, thus minimizing maintenance and making them particularly suitable for the extreme conditions of Antarctica.

These devices have proven to operate effectively, registering a power output of 6 watts, enough to power sensors for research and volcanic surveillance. This technology allows for continuous operation throughout the year, overcoming the challenges posed by the Antarctic environment, known for its extreme weather conditions, with temperatures that can drop to -76 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and months of continuous darkness, as explained by the researchers:

“This technology could be extrapolated to many other volcanoes around the world, which would help increase public safety by improving remote volcanic surveillance with better and more timely anticipation of volcanic eruptions.”

The success of these generators opens new possibilities in geological and volcanic monitoring, greatly improving the collection of real-time data. UPNA’s technology could be extended to other volcanoes worldwide, significantly enhancing civil safety through better and more timely predictions of volcanic eruptions.

Source: UPNA

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