Arctic Expedition uses fuel cell to power research equipment


Polar scientists from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) carry out research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth and our impact on it.
The past decades have seen rapid change in the Arctic sea ice pack. The ice has become thinner and younger, leading researchers to recognise the need for up to date observations on the condition of the icepack and the potential effects on climate, ocean and ecosystems.


A recent BAS project – on a Norwegian ice drift expedition in the Arctic Ocean, north of Svalbard, sought to understand these sea ice processes from winter formation to summer melt. The team looked particularly at how snow storms above sea ice contribute to atmospheric chemistry and particle formation.
An instrument suite, comprising meteorological instruments, particle counters and air pumps was needed to operate on the 1 metre thick sea ice, under the harsh winter conditions of the High Arctic


This required a continuous power supply at temperatures down to -40C, wind speeds up to 50 knots and associated strong snow drift. Flexibility regarding instrument location on the sea ice was also needed, as well as autonomy for many days – accessibility was limited during storms, when visibility was low or when sea ice conditions were not safe for travel. Lead acid batteries had been used in the past, but these required swapping every 12 hours for recharging, which involved two people moving a total weight of 50-60kg during each exchange – whilst dealing with the polar winter conditions.


Fuel Cell Systems Ltd provided an EFOY Pro DMFC (direct methanol fuel cell) unit, which uses liquid methanol as a fuel source. The fuel cell, stored inside a weather proof case, was placed on the sea ice and delivered the required power in hybrid operation with a battery.  Dr Markus Frey, of the British Antarctic Survey commented “The EFOY Pro 2400 Duo provided reliable power to our instrument suite during the most challenging cold and stormy conditions in the Arctic winter.”