In operation at the Princess Elisabeth Antarctica research station since December 10, Venturi’s electric tracked vehicle provides an environmentally responsible means of transport for the staff at the zero-emission Belgian base. Monaco Tribune discussed this technological breakthrough with Louis Marie Blondel, the vehicle’s designer, and Franck Baldet, technical director.
The idea started out in 2009, following an initiative by Prince Albert II. After touring the stations in Antarctica, the Sovereign shared with Gildo Pastor his wish to have a 100% electric vehicle created for use there. Message received, loud and clear. Louis-Marie Blondel took charge of the project. “We have been working on this vehicle since 2010,” he explained. First, two prototypes were launched, Venturi Antarctica being the third generation of the tracked electric vehicle.
“The second vehicle was used for a mission in Canada with Prince Albert II. Since then, we have worked on the battery, the engine but also, most importantly, the vehicle’s thermal management. We’ve all noticed that our phones lose battery very quickly when we go skiing. It’s the same thing with vehicle batteries”. With temperatures that can plummet to -40 degrees in Antarctica, the focus was therefore on thermal management.
“We also made sure that everything is as functional as possible, so that all the parts can be swapped out directly on site. This is why we opted for a tubular steel chassis. To make the vehicle as light and robust as possible”. The energy-consuming track drive system was also carefully optimised in partnership with Michelin to keep consumption as low as possible. In terms of autonomy, the vehicle can now travel up to 50 km on average.
Gildo Pastor, Franck Baldet, Louis Marie Blondel and their team spent nearly a fortnight at the station for the Venturi Antarctica’s inaugural outing on site. “We were expecting wide flat expanses, but in fact, there are mountain peaks at over 3000m”, Franck Baldet smiles. “It’s nature in its purest form, without any kind of building whatsoever. Temperatures fluctuated between 0 and -15 degrees. It was summer in the southern hemisphere, so it never got dark.”
Among the Antarctica’s different missions, the most important is transporting scientists on site, in particular so that they can measure the snow, in order to analyse ice melt. “It makes transport conditions more pleasant than on a snowmobile”. Other samples are also easier to take thanks to the Venturi vehicle.
“Scientists on site measure particle levels in the air, as an indication of the pollution”, Franck Baldet explains. “It means we can see that pollution is truly global on the planet, since it reaches Antarctica, an area that should not be affected in theory.” Another possible use of the Venturi Antarctica is for rescue work. “Crevasses are sometimes covered with snow bridges, and there is a risk of falling. The vehicle could be used to keep the injured warm during transport.”
The vehicle is easy to use. It has been tested and unanimously approved by all the staff on the base.