Making Electricity At The South Pole

In case you’ve ever wondered how the South Pole research stations are powered, then a recent blog post, South Pole Electrical Infrastructure by anonymous IT engineer [brr] is for you. Among the many issues covered, let’s look at how the electricity is made and, spoiler alert, how the specially formulated AN8 fuel blend is transported to the generators.

The main source of power is a trio of Caterpillar 3512B diesel generator sets, de-rated to 750 kW each due to the high altitude and the special fuel mixture. Unsurprisingly, all the fuel must be imported to Antarctica, a horribly inefficient endeavor. Fuel arrives initially at McMurdo Station harbor by tanker ship. From there, it can be sent to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in one of two ways. The Lockheed LC-130 is a modified C-130 Hercules cargo plane developed in the 1950s specifically to support polar operations. It is the least efficient method, consuming 1.33 kg to transport 1 kg of fuel. Alternatively, fuel can be dragged by tractors via the South Pole Overland Traverse (SPoT), a 1600 km highway over compacted snow and ice. The trek takes about 40 days and only consumes 0.56 kg of fuel for every 1 kg, which is much better than air.

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