credit: EOM Images

The South Pole: a circular economy laboratory

Posted on 27 April 2017.

Since 2001, Veolia has worked collaboratively with a number of industry and academic partners on projects to reduce human impact on the sensitive Antarctic environment.

The "white continent" has unique and accelerated drivers for innovation in the circular economy and sustainable development.

At the borders of the world, which are both hostile and wonderful, Antarctica's white blanket covers some 14 million square kilometers. The South Pole is the last virgin continent which has remained unspoiled for thousands of years. As such, it is considered to be a gauge of the Earth's condition. Researchers flock there in droves to better understand the climate of the past and implications for the future and conduct fundamental research into physics, glaciology or marine biology. This human presence is not without consequences...

The increase in research expeditions and polar tourism over the past hundred years has effectively accelerated environmental degradation and placed great stress on limited water and waste management facilities at Anatarctic bases.

Waste of all kinds

Generations of explorers have left construction materials, vehicles, oil drums, and waste of all kinds behind. Imprisoned in the ice for most of the year, they leak contamination into the ice and sediments, as well as the ocean when the ice melts in summer. This situation eventually alerted the countries who are signatories to the Antarctic Treaty.

The Madrid Protocol has made  global environmental protection in the Antarctic mandatory for the thirty-two signatory countries since 1991. Easier said than done...

Extreme conditions make it difficult to transport equipment and conventional waste treatment facilities are not made to withstand the Arctic cold. However, solutions need to be found. As such, the "white continent" has accelerated innovation in the circular economy and sustainable development.

Example of the Australian Antarctic Division

In 2001, Veolia signed a 10 year cooperative agreement with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the body in charge of Australian activity in Antarctica. Objective: Break down technical barriers to water and waste transportation and treatment. This partnership resulted in viable innovative solutions in waste management and contaminated site remediation at Australian Antarctic bases.

The first project began in 2001, near Casey Station in East Antarctica, with a landfill site in the Thala valley which had been abandoned for several years. Veolia supplied 240 containers to repatriate all of the waste to Australia where it was properly treated and disposed of.

Following on from the previous project at Thala Valley, in 2015 the University of Melbourne approached Veolia to collaborate ondeveloping a treatment solution using biofiltration to treat melt water and biopile leachate  contaminated by diesel spills.

Further to this,in 2011 Veolia was invited to collaborate in a multi-year project funded by the  AAD and the Australian Water Recycling Centre of Excellence (AWRCoE) to design, build, commission, operate and validate and advanced water treatment system for Davis Station. Project partners included Victoria University, the University of Melbourne, Veolia, TasWater, Coliban Water and AECOM Australia.

Established in 1957, the station has had little to no wastewater treatment capability for most of its operating life. Typically wastewater was discharged into the ocean, creating pollution issues for the nearby marine environment.

The advanced water treatment plant, coupled with a recently installed and commissioned membrane bioreactor process, will enable effluents to be treated to potable water quality, so that they can be discharged without any impact on the ocean. Researchers are even studying the possibility of being able to drink the recycled water! The advanced water treatment plant is expected to be sent to Davis for commissioning in 2017-2018.

Since the 2000s, Veolia has developed similar partnerships to preserve the environment with Chile and France. Antarctica is an open-air laboratory where innovative solutions can be tested and developed over a short period of time. Sustainable development is even organized at the end of the world...

Find out more:

- Robert Swan, polar explorer


Main picture: credit EOM Images