The world's first emission-free polar research station opened in Antarctica on Sunday.
The $26 million Princess Elisabeth research hub is energy self-sufficient and aims not to emit any carbon dioxide, according to the Belgian-based International Polar Foundation that runs the base.
The octagonal, spaceship-like base sits on stilts on a ridge a few miles north of the Soer Rondane Mountains. It will focus on analyzing deep ice shelves nearby.
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 bug-like, three-story building ensure the base has power and hot water. Even the geometry of windows help conserve energy.
This "zero emission" station is a major accomplishment and sets a new standard for future stations. Moreover, Princess Elisabeth Antarctica is the only station to be entirely built during the International Polar Year.
The inauguration of the Princess Elisabeth Station is a sign of the growing interest in sustainable solutions. The combination of existing technologies such as energy management, passive building, or even construction as such, make the station a pioneering achievement in Antarctica and a milestone of sustainable development, the Foundation said in a press release.
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 is 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, told Reuters 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 leading manufacturer of catalysts for cars who attended the ceremony, said it made good business sense for companies to help protect the environment.
"The global credit crisis is a result of unsustainable behaviour. 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 said.
Scientists monitoring global warming predict higher temperatures could hasten melting at Antarctica, the world's largest repository of fresh water, raising sea levels and altering shorelines. If Antarctica ever melted, world sea levels would rise by about 57 metres.
The base is expected to have a life span of 25 years and will be used for research in climatology, glaciology and microbiology. Teams of scientists, including glaciologists, are already at work there from Belgium, Japan, France, Britain and the United States.