A major research project into the science and ecology of Antarctica is being carried out by The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ).
The organisation is collaborating with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which has an established base at Rothera in the Antarctic.
Due to accommodation restrictions on site and the cost of building a new fixed ground-based facility in the remote location to house the Dutch team, a fresh approach was required to enable the project to go ahead.
The requirement was to provide high quality research facilities for precise scientific work, able to withstand the extreme Antarctic climate - while providing stable internal temperatures and atmospheric conditions.
Given the intense cold and dramatic changes in conditions, this was a major challenge. A key component of any solution would be precise control and monitoring, to ensure not only the safety of personnel working in the facility but the validity of the scientific experiments being carried out.
The solution decided upon was to create a series of containerised modules to house the laboratories and research facilities required. These would be based on standard shipping containers and manufactured to very high standards, with bespoke equipment such as scientific instruments and indoor climate control equipment designed-in.
Four of the containerised laboratories have been built by NIOZ in the Netherlands for shipping to the Antarctic as complete modules for installation next to the existing British Antarctic Survey station. The approach enables collaborative work with British scientists and central back-up for the Dutch scientists stationed there.
At the heart of the facility is an RDM-based control and monitoring system, designed and installed by Delta Technics Engineering bv for its client JM Services.
Despite external temperatures as low as -25deg C, internal conditions in the modules have to be maintained at a steady 15-20deg C. In addition, humidity levels and CO2 concentration must be precisely monitored and regulated.
The RDM system controls all aspects of internal conditions, including heating, cooling and sophisticated ventilation systems – equipped with heat recovery to ensure energy is not lost to the outside. It also enables remote monitoring of the facility via the internet from anywhere in the world.
Max Neus of Delta says:
“It is an interesting application for RDM systems. It includes a heat pump to ensure a high level of energy efficiency. The external heat exchangers are required to work in ambient conditions as low as -25deg C. The system, based on R404A, uses a secondary water/glycol system to provide both heating and cooling for the modules.”
“In principle, there is nothing particularly new or different about the parameters being controlled or how it is being achieved from a controls strategy point of view. The application, however, is certainly exceptional and inspiring.”
Planning and engineering of the project started in 2010, and the labs are planned to be deployed and operational during 2012. The RDM solution was designed, tested and implemented in a relatively short space of time, enabling the project timetable to be achieved.
At the time of writing, construction of all four modules is complete and containers are being readied for deployment to Antarctica.
Max Neus added:
"One of the great benefits of RDM products,” says Max Neus. “is that they enable you to achieve quite complex and challenging things very quickly and easily"
There was a further important contribution made by RDM equipment to the project. Before being signed off as safe to deploy, the completed modules had to be tested in simulated Antarctic conditions in temperature-controlled test rooms. The climatic chambers used were themselves controlled and monitored by RDM systems, reports Max
“The Antarctic project was in many ways unique,” he says. “However, we believe it points towards a bigger opportunity for the application of RDM system in the growing field of modularised facilities. These are used in many parts of the world to provide instant accommodation, for disaster relief by aid agencies, governments and the military. To enable their use in many parts of the world, particularly tropical zones, climate control is required. RDM solutions are a quick, cost-effective solution - and proven.”