Extreme engineering: Practice makes perfect ahead of fitting out the new Discovery Building

23 November, 2021

The new science and operations facility at Rothera Research Station, the Discovery Building, has a unique design to meet the challenges of living and working in Antarctica, along with helping British Antarctic Survey achieve its target of Net Zero carbon emissions by 2040. Construction started on the building in 2019 and the team from our Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation Programme (AIMP) recently mocked up the plant room in Glasgow, or engine of the building, to triple check every piece of equipment, before shipping to Antarctica later this year. Dave Brand (Project Manager for Rothera Modernisation), Thomas Roberts (Mechanical Project Engineer) and Matt Meaden (Electrical and Power Generation Engineer) discuss why it’s important to construct elements of the new building in the UK before heading to Antarctica and how the new equipment will limit the impact on Antarctica’s pristine environment.

Last month, colleagues from across the AIMP partnership travelled to Inverness and Glasgow to subcontractors G A Barnie (GAB) and DTGen where the Discovery Building equipment was being put through its paces, ahead of being shipped to Antarctica for construction.

Members of the BAS, BAM and Ramboll Teams stood in the mocked-up Discovery Plantroom
Members of the BAS, BAM and Ramboll Teams stood in the mocked-up Discovery Plantroom

Testing the plant room and energy centre

The two weeks focussed on factory acceptance tests for all equipment and were a great success. GAB had mocked up the Discovery plant room and the team spent the time running through all the new systems to learn and challenge the operation and maintenance regimes.

The plant room and energy centre provide the critical life support systems that will allow us to operate the Discovery Building and the wider station.  The life support systems we tested will enable us to transition to a different way of working, where rooms have a multi-purpose function depending on the time of year and there are varying occupancies throughout the seasons.

Our Estates team got real value out of operating the kit for themselves, and suppliers were on site to demonstrate operation and answer any queries we had.

The BAS and Ramboll Team were also able to see the testing of the boilers, the mist suppression pumps and the fire alarm system, lighting and the building management system.

The reverse osmosis plant that generates drinkable water from seawater was also tested. Through the process of water purification, the salt and other impurities are removed from the sea water using a semi-permeable membrane.

Salt Separation Services (SSS) demonstrating operation of the new Reverse Osmosis Plants.
Salt separation services demonstrating operation of the new reverse osmosis plants to create drinkable water

The Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) in the form of back up batteries was also demonstrated. The purpose of the UPS is to provide a back-up power supply if the critical components of a life support system fail, thus providing assurance that even during a power black-out, these systems keep running. This is especially important in Antarctica where temperatures can reach up to minus 40 degrees.

A group of people standing in a room
Testing the Uninterrupted Power Supply to provide back-up power under the watchful eye of BAS Estates engineers. GAB filmed demonstrations which BAS will be able to use as training material.

Generating power and saving energy

At DTGen in Glasgow, the four 200kW generators were tested to ensure that the combined heat and power modifications met the design specification to make the estate at Rothera 25% more energy efficient at producing power.

Waste heat will be recovered from the exhaust gases as well as the engine water jacket using heat exchangers. This thermal data has been captured and will be used in dynamic thermal simulation modelling to tune the operational parameters, which will ensure the engines are efficient as possible for the thermal and electrical load profile of the Discovery Building.

Photo of a generator
Testing the generators to ensure the heat and power modifications will make Rothera Research Station 25% more energy efficient
The engine of a kitchen
Exhaust Gas Heat Exchanger (EGHE)

The engines were also fitted with diesel particulate filters to ensure that when the engines are running at Rothera they are the most emission friendly in their class.

Diesel particulate filters (without insulation jacket)
Diesel particulate filters (without insulation jacket)

The generators were also tested to the absolute maximum; running at 110% load (220kW) to prove the resilience of the system. The power generation system is vital to running the other critical life support systems in the Discovery Building, and hence their resilience is of utmost importance.

Testing the generators
Testing the generators

To help monitor the generators, there is an 18” touch screen that shows the status of all four engines at once and will be installed local to the energy centre. This information will be at the fingertips of BAS Estates operatives at Rothera as it can be relayed to any screen in the Discovery Building allowing the operation of the generators to be managed more efficiently based on the electrical demand from the station.

A screen shot of a computer
Checking the status of the generators at the energy centre

Why we test before we travel to Antarctica

The team came away from the factory acceptance testing confident in the delivery of robust systems and impressed with efforts going in to ensure quality of every piece of equipment.

Ultimately, the time spent with DTGen and GAB helped the team identify improvements and reduce risk in commissioning the plant at Rothera Research Station.

It was brilliant to finally meet face-to-face again with everyone involved with the project over the last few years. We are looking forward to seeing the teams from all our AIMP partners travel to Antarctica for the installation and commissioning of this equipment over the next couple of years and finally see it operational!