U.S. Tests Electric Vehicles in Icy Antarctica

McMURDO STATION, Antarctica, April 27, 2011 (ENS) – Two electric vehicles have traveled farther south than any EVs have gone before – to the U.S. research base at McMurdo Station.

If these E-Ride Industries EXV2s can prove they are tough enough to take the harsh conditions in Antarctica, electric vehicles could replace the extensive fleet of diesel trucks, snowmobiles and buses at the base.

Testing these vehicles’ batteries will be key to understanding how EVs perform in extremely cold climates. They must withstand temperatures that dip below -50 degrees Fahrenheit (-10 degrees Celsius) at McMurdo Station.

“This project is specifically looking at reducing the amount of petroleum used down in Antarctica,” said senior task leader Ted Sears with the U.S. Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Lab, NREL.

“Transporting vehicle fuel to Antarctica is costly and resource intensive, and requires great planning as well,” explained Sears. “Managing energy use very carefully is critical because of potentially harmful effects on the environment.”

An E-Ride EXV2 rolls off the plane at McMurdo Station. (Photo courtesy Raytheon Polar Services)

Located on the southern tip of Ross Island, on the shore of McMurdo Sound, the station is the largest community in Antarctica, capable of supporting up to 1,258 residents. With a harbor, three airfields, a heliport and more than 100 buildings, it serves as the U.S. Antarctic science facility.

The polar regions are pristine research environments and the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs is working with NREL and the Department of Energy to incorporate more renewable energy and energy efficiency practices into its polar facilities.

“Each gallon of fuel NREL can demonstrate can be displaced with renewable energy will make a real difference,” Sears said.

“At this point, it looks promising given that two renewable resources – solar and wind – are already on the ice and can be used to power vehicles. So, we’ve put two test electric utility vehicles down there, to see how they function,” Sears said.

“Of course, we’ll be examining the power needs of any proposed McMurdo Station electric vehicle fleet to ensure it would not negatively impact the other power needs and operations at McMurdo, Sear said. “It may be that a mix of vehicle types, electric and conventional, is appropriate, depending on the operational needs at the facility.”

Researchers thought these were the units that would best fit the kind of vehicle uses found in Antarctica where pickup trucks are now the vehicle of choice.

“E-Ride’s EXV2 was chosen mainly because of its truck frame and its design as a utility vehicle,” said NREL senior mechanical engineer Ian Baring-Gould, who leads the laboratory’s work in polar environments.

The E-Ride EXV2 is designed as a two-person vehicle with a truck-like bed and larger utility style tires for use on dirt roads. It has a maximum speed of 25 mph and uses lead-acid batteries. For deployment to Antarctica, the EVs were outfitted with insulation for the batteries as well as battery heaters.

National Science Foundation and Raytheon Polar Services jointly own one of the vehicles and the National Renewable Energy Lab owns the other. The E-Rides’ plane landed on the ice at McMurdo in February, on one of the last flights before the harsh winter season set in.

“I love the photos from when the vehicles were unloaded in Antarctica,” Sears said. “They just look to me like they are cringing as their tires hit the ice going, ‘I don’t know about this.'”

To date, the EVs have been driven more than 70 hours and logged nearly 140 miles. The data collection will continue for at least one year, covering the coldest months and the milder summer months.

“Even if they are only good in the summer months, we would be happy with learning this and with the associated amount of petroleum savings,” said Sears. “Despite the vehicles being equipped with battery warming devices, there are still going to be limitations on their capabilities.”

Not only in Antarctica but around the world, there are many remote locations looking at renewables to reduce fuel use.

“That is one of the prime reasons we are testing this in McMurdo,” Baring-Gould said. “In this case we are looking at EVs for McMurdo, but there is a huge market out there from rural communities in Alaska to islands in the Pacific that need to look at the transportation sector and how EVs can play a continuing role in their ability to reduce dependency on imported fuels.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.