15 December, 2021 Net Zero

A hackathon involving some highly innovative minds from across business and academia has resulted in the announcement of three winning entries to help decarbonise research stations for the British Antarctic Survey.

The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) set technical challenges to a global community of innovators to find innovative and resilient solutions to address three challenge categories: energy reduction and generation, backup systems and energy storage.

Nine teams of innovators participated in the hackathon to rapidly develop solutions to help BAS decarbonise its Rothera Research Station on the Antarctic Peninsula in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, supporting the Net Zero transition.

A panel of expert judges has today revealed its winning teams from across the world:

  • Greenpixie: a London-based start-up who focus on measuring and reducing digital carbon footprints
  • Cambridge Design Partnership: an end-to-end innovation partner, building breakthrough products and services for clients in the consumer, healthcare and industrial markets. CDP is 100% owned by its employees.
  • ODTU teknokent: a leading Turkish University collaborated with product design and manufacturer YEDIC Engineering, Momentum R&D and Nanovatif Materials Technologies to form a team.

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of British Antarctic Survey said:

“We carry out vital scientific research on the impact of climate change in Antarctica and beyond. By replacing old inefficient infrastructure with sustainable technologies, our ambition is to reduce carbon emissions in our Antarctic stations and Cambridge office to net zero by 2040.

There are many challenges ahead, however we have a history of working in collaboration to solve difficult issues. We are grateful to all the teams who took part and to the winners for their innovative ideas. We look forward to exploring further with them if and how their ideas might help us find solutions to reach net zero as quickly as possible.”

Through the course of the Hackathon teams were provided with detailed information on operations at BAS’s largest Antarctic facility, including the existing measures in place, and the limitations of existing technologies.

Greenpixie, came up with a series of digital solutions to facilitate and encourage further efficiency. The solutions included energy saving through optimising the digital hardware and software that BAS use across their estate both in Antarctica and Cambridge.  Solutions ranged from utilising waste heat generated by servers to intelligent load balancing, to better optimisation of data transfer.  Energy efficiency opportunities were also identified in behavioural changes and day to day energy management through the use of smart grids.

Photo of the team from Greenpixie
The winning team from Greenpixie

Rory Brown, Director of Sustainability at Greenpixie said:

“We really believe that innovation and progress occur when different minds come together to solve different issues. That’s why we exist as a company, and we wanted to apply ourselves and the knowledge we’ve gained along the way to a novel environment. What’s more novel than working on BAS net zero plan? We will draw on our experience in the hackathon in the way that we approach problems on a day-to-day basis. We will certainly be searching out more unexpected places where our knowledge and skills can make an impact.”

Cambridge Design Partnership came up with the winning energy storage solution. It focused on a creative combination of proven technologies in order to ensure resilience and reliability. This included using distributed phase-change materials (heat is absorbed or released when the material changes from solid to liquid and vice versa or when the internal structure of the material changes) to store large amounts of heat in the building envelope, and energy demand management measures to better match heat and electricity demand to the renewable supply.

The team from Cambridge Design Partnership
The winning team from Cambridge Design Partnership

Matt Morris, sustainability lead at Cambridge Design Partnership said:

“We see a role for innovation in finding creative solutions to help close the gap between global sustainability goals and our current trajectory – the ‘implementation gap.’ BAS’ challenge is a perfect example of this, and we wanted to use our approach to problem-solving to help uncover solutions that might not be obvious using conventional methods. We’d love to explore ways to help BAS take our ideas further – more analysis is needed to be confident, but we think there’s potential.”

The final winning team, coordinated by Turkish university ODTU Teknokent, proposed an innovative approach to maximise potential for wind energy through wind turbines that are resistant to extreme weather conditions, feeding in to an electrolyser.

The winning team coordinated by Turkish university ODTU teknokent
The winning team coordinated by Turkish university ODTU Teknokent

Gizem Damla Ateşağaoğlu, Business Development and Project Manager at Yedic Engineering said:

“As companies working on renewable energy technologies, our goal is to make a difference in the future of our world. This hackathon was an opportunity for that. The chance of overcoming a challenge about energy in a place so far from us is exciting. We are delighted to be a part of it.”

BAS’s five Antarctic and sub-Antarctic Research Stations deliver and enable world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. It’s skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research within the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of the Earth and our impact on it. The Research Stations, situated thousands of miles away from towns and cities, present significant challenges when it comes to achieving net zero, such as massive seasonal variations in weather, and working alongside a host of protected species. It is anticipated that existing technologies such as renewable energy, energy storage and heat recovery systems can contribute significantly towards their target of achieving net zero by 2040, but an innovative approach is needed to fully decarbonise.

Eithne George, Programme Director, University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership said:

“We know that often innovation arises from very constrained situations or specific challenges – take for instance the solar panel, invented by NASA in the space race. Through this Hackathon we wanted to bring the best thinking from a diverse global innovation community to break new ground in the race to decarbonise our economy, in ways that tread lightly on our remaining planetary resources and are equitable and inclusive. The solutions put forward by the teams have challenged BAS’s thinking in their approach to decarbonisation, and we look forward to seeing them develop further.”

Situated on Adelaide Island to the west of the Antarctic Peninsula, Rothera supports a wide range of BAS, UK university and international collaborative science programmes. The station is 1,860km south of the Falkland Islands and 1,630km south-east of Punta Arenas, Chile. Adelaide island, which is 140km long, is mountainous and heavily glaciated. Its highest peak is 2,565 metres.

Each of the winning teams will receive mentorship provided through the CISL Accelerator to further developed their concept.