Thursday, March 24, 2011

Polar Technology Conf

Thursday Evening - Today was the first day of the Polar Technology Conference and the amount and value of information presented is incredible. Designing systems that can run unattended (no maintenance including batteries) for years that run in really harsh environments is being done. They are talking low temperatures of -75°C (-103°F!), Iridium data links, solar and wind power systems, and power budgets ranging from micro-watts to a few watts. Incredible! I would really enjoy being involved in some of these projects.

Friday Morning -This morning much of the discussion was on power infrastructure including observatory platforms deployed in Antarctica. One observatory platform uses 5 diesel engines with 6000 gallons of fuel combined with about 1.5KW of passive solar that is designed to run for two years without maintenance (visits are expensive). Data is relayed out using Iridium and Openport including all monitoring and control. Pretty slick system. Today, the presenter fo used on the power infrastructure available to support science. Another presentation had some horror stories of trying to get wind turbines up and running to support an RF sensitive antenna array. Trying to get bearings with grease that works down to -90°C and no maintenance opportunities for at least a year. Apparently, if you just need your experiment to run during the Antarctic summer, no problem at all. Just use solar and people are around. Winter is the real challenge.

Friday Afternoon - There was a long discussion about the use of fuel cells in an Arctic environment. A German system is being used in the Canadian Arctic and in Alaska outside of Toolik Lake. Overall partially successful though it is critical to manage heat and waste. Since tbe fuel cell produces liquid water as a waste product, it tends to freeze once it leaves the insulated enclosure. The interior of the fuel cell also needs to be kept above freezing.

A while back, I mentioned that this structure showed up on the beach. There was a presentation which explained what it was, what they were doing, and why it was shut down after only a couple of months. They are looking to deploy a number of these along the coast and they wanted to develop a portable, standalone module to provide power and two way data for a series of high frequency radar units. I had talked to the radar group last year but didn't realize that this power module was part of the project. 425 watts of wind & solar with backup diesel power. Pretty cool!


  1. It sounds interesting. Anything that doesn't need maintenance for a long time must be good!

  2. Dear Richard:

    Have a great trip. I am looking for a self-staining marriage that requires no maintenance. Call me if they have one on display.

    Fondest regards,
    Jack • reep • toad
    Twisted Roads

  3. Richard:

    being an owner of a Beemer I thought you would be used to frequent, mandatory maintenance.

    So many things to think about in a harsh environment.

    Riding the Wet Coast

  4. Getting to many of these sights is extremely difficult even during the summer season, which only lasts a few months. Most of the sites are unmanned and completely inaccessible during the other 10 months. And even when they are accessible, time actually on the site is extremely limited. Yesterday, someone mentioned deploying instrumentation while the rotors on the helicopter were still spinning. Transporting batteries and fuel is extremely costly and difficult.

  5. Amazing stuff. Define the problem and seek the solution. Wonderful. Thanks for sharing this. It was very interesting.