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Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Polar Station

Credits: ©2009 Antarctic Station

This project is a major first: the only polar base operating entirely on renewable energies! Commissioned by the Belgian government, this represents a technical achievement blending the best of both science and technology. By bringing together international technology and expertise, "Princess Elisabeth" combines eco-friendly construction materials, clean and efficient energy use, optimization of the station's energy consumption and the best waste management techniques. These leading techniques and facilities will aim to reduce the station's ecological footprint on the pristine environment of Antarctica, following the principles set forth by the Antarctic Treaty. The Princess Elisabeth Station is located upon the Utsteinen nunatak in the Dronning Maud Land (East Antarctica). The exact coordinates are 71°57' S - 23°20' E. Scroll to bottom for brochure about the station.


Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Station Turbines

The Princess Elisabeth station in Antarctica is powered by wind and solar power. While wind power will be used to supply the station with electricity all year long, solar power will provide both electricity (photovoltaic panels) and hot water (solar thermal panels) during the austral summer. ©2012 Polar Foundation

Princess Elisabeth Base, located on Dronning Maud Land (71°34′S 23°12′E / 71.57°S 23.20°E / -71.57; 23.20) is a Belgian polar station, taken into use on February 15, 2009. The station is the first polar base that combines eco-friendly construction materials, clean and efficient energy use, optimization of the station's energy consumption and clever waste management techniques.

The station is built against a ridge (The Utsteinen ridge) that is exposed to gales of up to 300 km/h. The station can withstand such strong winds through its aerodynamical shape and its foundation anchoring of several meters deep into the permafrost.

The upper deck of the building is the actual station and looks over the ridge edge. The lower deck contains a garage for snowcat vehicles and other utilities.

The Princess Elisabeth base is the only zero emission base on the Antarctic. It runs entirely on solar and wind energy. It is connected to nine wind turbines that stretch out along the Utsteinen ridge. It houses up to 16 scientists at a time.

Water distribution at the Station is managed very carefully. It is distributed and managed frugally, and it is also reused after treatment. 100% of used water is recycled at the station, 75% of which is after each treatment reused for showers, toilets and washing machines.

The International Polar Foundation, IPF, led by the explorer Alain HUBERT, was commissioned in 2004 by the Belgian Federal Government to design, construct and operate a new Belgian Antarctic research station. Thanks to IPF, its technical partners and financial sponsors (out of which ArcelorMittal), this polar research center, the world’s first ever “zero emission” station, stands now on top of a granite ridge, north of the Utsteinen Nunatak in the Sör Rondane Mountains, Dronning Maud Land, East Antarctica.

Design of the station
Several factors influenced the final form of the station developed by the Foundation design team:
- The environmental conditions: extreme wind speeds, stable wind direction, very dry atmosphere, sub-zero temperatures, snow erosion and accumulation, and the potential "blasting" by grit and stone projectiles. The building has to stand at an average of 2m above the underlying ridge to prevent snow build up. The von Karman Institute for Fluid Dynamics has been closely involved in elaborating the final shape, through the establishment of the wind force distribution and intensity on the building using a wind tunnel model based on actual in situ wind velocity surveys.
- A sustainable development approach: integration of renewable energy sources, energy efficiency and optimisation of energy flows, optimisation of materials and total waste management systems integration into the design. Energy modeling by 3E helped making this station the first ever polar station designed to create zero emission carbon dioxide by running entirely on renewable wind and solar energies.
- The functional program: scientific and living spaces were provided in function of the research programs likely to be run from the station. Based on the aerodynamics and energy studies, Samyn and Partners architects have been entrusted with the task of designing the core building concepts. The extremely short time-frame for the execution of the project has led to a "design and build" approach, and Prefalux (of Luxemburg) was invited into the team to build on its expertise in wood-based structures and thus accelerate the process, under the control of SECO (Belgian Building Control Agency).

The multinational construction company, BESIX, acted as overall construction coordinator on-site in Brussels for the testing phase and also for the site in the Antarctic for the final construction of the building.

The Princess Elisabeth Building
The whole Princess Elisabeth complex consists of the research station itself, technical areas and garages, and of eight wind turbines next to the station. The sub-structure, built by the firm Iemants, is composed of four steel trestles, which may expand and contract independently of each other, and which support a large wooden superstructure. The trestles are anchored in the non-uniform, surface weathered, granite bedrock and are shored by 6m deep tie-rods such as to provide a reaction to the important wind uplift experienced by the building. The anchorages have been drilled with the Smet Boring Company.

Not only the drilling of the station’s anchoring points was the most important part of the first building stage, but it was the most difficulty to carry out because of the composition of the rocks and their unequal disposition. The envelope of the superstructure covers an orthogonal grid of trusses expanding from floor to ceiling in laminated wood elements assembled with Blumer type connectors. The 25 tons of stainless steel 304 B composing the final layer of the envelope of were supplied by ArcelorMittal.

From inside to outside, the wall and roof parts of the envelope are composed of: - a wall covering; - a heavy duty Kraft paper with a thick continuous aluminium vapour barrier; - a 74mm thick multiplex wooden panel; - 400mm lightweight expanded polystyrene blocs; - a 42mm thick multiplex wooden panel (linked to the lower board by means of 6cm diameter cylindrical beech wood posts, fitting precisely in cylindrical holes in the polystyrene); - a 2mm EPDM waterproofing membrane; - a 4mm closed-cell polyethylene foam mat between the stainless steel bands located under the joints of - the final cover consisting of bolted 1,5mm thick stainless steel plates. The floor (continuous with the upper envelope) is nearly composed in the same manner (from inside out): - a floor covering; - a vapour barrier; - a 42mm thick multiplex wooden panel; - 400mm expanded polystyrene - a 74mm thick multiplex wooden panel resting on the structural floor beams; - a gap at the height of the beam; - a 42mm thick multiplex wooden panel on which - the EPDM membrane, - the closed cell foam and - the stainless steel cladding is fixed. A steel plate lies between every column and connects with the continuous floor vapour barrier. The design, concept and developed prototype were approved at the end of April 2007. The final assembly and construction has taken place during January and February 2008 on site in Antarctica.

Design and Construction:
International Polar Foundation - Project Director / Chief engineer site construction: Alain Hubert - Project Manager: Johan Berte - Program Administrator: Nighat Amin Contractors - Coordination: BESIX - Wood Structure and Building Enclosure: Prefalux - Steel Structures: Iemants - Ground Anchorage: Smet-Boring - Interior Design: Cherbai - Water distribution: Aquasanit & Polet - Electrical Systems: Scnider Eletric

The station is named after Princess Elisabeth of Belgium, granddaughter of Albert II of Belgium and daughter of Prince Philippe, Duke of Brabant.

Research station website:


  Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Zero Emission Station (4,666 kb)