South Pole Passive Building

The principles of passive building can even be applied in the Antarctic.

As the world’s first zero emission polar research station—an honor bestowed upon it after the facility’s construction by Belgium in 2008—Princess Elisabeth Antarctica, located about 125 miles inland, integrates passive building technologies, renewable wind and solar energy, water treatment facilities, continuously monitored power demand and a smart grid for maximizing energy efficiency.


Here are several passive and zero-emission aspects of the facility, according to Antarctic Station

Passive Solar Gain 

Despite being in the coldest environment on Earth, no form of heating is needed to keep researchers warm. The station maintains its internal temperatures using only incoming sunlight, and the heat produced by human beings and the station’s electrical appliances.


Beside the need to shield its occupants from Antarctic cold, the facility must be air- and water-tight to achieve optimal energy use and heat transfer. 

Princess Elisabeth Antarctica’s insulation is nine layers thick, each of which has its own special function: stainless steel (exterior); closed-cell polystyrene foam; EPDM silicone sealant; lamellate wood (80 millimeter); low-density polystyrene charged with graphite; lamellate wood (60 mm); kraft paper; aluminum vapor barrier; and woolen felt. 

Ventilation and Heat Exchange 

The station’s integrated heat exchange and ventilation systems extract vitiated or “stale” air (i.e., air without much oxygen, such as that which has been exhaled) and replace it with fresh air. Doing so prevents the station from turning into a sauna, as repurposed air is significantly warmer than incoming. It also spreads the collected heat over the building, with some areas such as the technical core needing more than others.

Photovoltaic Solar Panels 

These are the traditional panels found on commercial buildings, capable of withstanding the harsh winds and subzero winter temperatures. They cover most of the station’s surface and roofs, feeding the facility’s smart grid with electricity. Any excess production is stored in lead-acid deep cycle batteries.

Thermal Solar Panels 

Located on one side of the station roof, thermal solar panels are used to melt the snow and heat the water for the station’s bathrooms and kitchen.

Wind Turbines

Nine wind turbines complement the solar installations and are vital during the six-month-long winters spent in 24-hour darkness. Although each unit is designed to withstand some of the most vicious storms on Earth, the blades can close down if needed. 

According to, many of the energy solutions perfected at Princess Elisabeth Antarctica have already been or will eventually be used in mainstream applications. These will “redefine energy use in our homes, offices and schools, and in every home, town and city across the world.”