05 Feb 2024

UPNA researchers generate electricity in Antarctica using geothermal heat

Researchers from the Public University of Navarra (UPNA), belonging to the Smart Cities Institute (ISC), have managed to generate electricity continuously in Antarctica using geothermal heat. The Thermal and Fluids Engineering team developed this innovative technology that makes it possible to harness the natural heat of the Earth’s interior to produce electricity.

The project, known as ‘Autonomous Thermoelectric Generators for Volcanic Monitoring’ (VIVOTEG), was carried out on Deception Island, one of Antarctica’s active volcanoes. The project is funded by the State Research Agency, coordinated by the Spanish Polar Committee and with the logistical support of the Spanish Navy.

The technology developed by the UPNA is based on Seebeck effect thermoelectric modules, which convert geothermal heat into electrical energy. This is achieved by means of highly efficient heat exchangers that transport the geothermal heat to the modules, which require no moving parts, making them ideal for operating in extreme conditions.

During the expedition, an electrical power of 6 watts was generated, enough to power the volcano monitoring sensors all year round. This modular technology can be upgraded by installing more modules, making it highly scalable.

The impact of this breakthrough is significant in the monitoring of geological and volcanic phenomena. By eliminating the dependence on intermittent power sources, it facilitates the continuous collection of relevant scientific data, which improves the understanding and anticipation of volcanic events and is crucial for public safety and risk management.