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Alternative energy thrives in Antarctica

THE world's first zero-emission polar research station has opened in Antarctica and was welcomed by scientists as proof that alternative energy is viable even in the coldest regions.

Pioneers of Belgium's Princess Elisabeth station in East Antarctica said if a station could rely on wind and solar power in Antarctica ?? mostly a vast, icy emptiness ?? it would undercut arguments by sceptics that green power was not reliable.

"If we can build such a station in Antarctica we can do that elsewhere in our society. We have the capacity, the technology, the knowledge to change our world," Alain Hubert, the station's project director, said at the inauguration ceremony.

Global warming, spurred by greenhouse gas emissions, has prompted governments to look for alternative energy sources. And renewable energies are gaining a foothold in Antarctica, despite problems in designing installations to survive bone-chilling cold and winter darkness.

Wind and even solar power are catching on - solar panels on the Antarctic Peninsula can collect as much energy in a year as many places in Europe.

Thomas Leysen, chairman of Belgium's Umicore, a manufacturer of catalysts for cars, attended the ceremony and said it made good business sense for companies to help protect the environment.

"The global credit crisis is a result of unsustainable behaviorism," he said.

"We can't deal in an unsustainable way with our planet otherwise we will also face a crisis which will be even bigger than the credit crisis," he added.

Constructed over two years, the steel-encased station uses micro-organisms and decomposition to enable scientists to re-use shower and toilet water up to five times before discarding it down a crevasse.

Wind turbines on the Utsteinen mountain ridge and solar panels on the three-story building ensure the base has power and hot water.


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