The South Pole’s Fuel Supply

Jeffrey Donenfeld Travel and Adventure, Trips 3 Comments

At the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, huge electrical generators power our lives – they create all of the electricity and heat we need to live and work – and they’re powered by AN8 Jet Fuel. Previously I wrote about the power plant, now let’s talk about that AN8 powering the generators.

The supply chain getting AN8 to the South Pole is extremely long – and from what I’ve heard floating around, the end cost to get a gallon of AN8 to the South Pole is around $35-$40. Wow.

There’s no pipeline to get the fuel here – instead, it’s flown here by LC-130 Hercules transport plane – in the plane’s own fuel tanks. Yep, instead of wasting valuable cargo space inside the cargo hold of the herc, the plane’s own fuel tanks are used to ferry AN8 to the station. This is made possible by the fact that both our station, equipment, as well as the planes themselves are powered by the same fuel – so the Hercs can burn the fuel from their tanks in order to fly, and then when they arrive at the pole, the excess they have in their tanks (saving a bit+safety for the flight back to McMurdo) is simply drained out, and into our holding tanks in the fuel arch. Once in tanks at the fuel arch under the snow, fuel is used by the power plant and equipment shops to power almost everythiing.

A few pics of the fuel delivery and storage process:

The LC-130H3 Hercules, on the Skiway at the South Pole. You can see the fuel offloading hose leading from the airplane to our transport tanks. The process of offloading fuel is complicated and dangerous. Our “fuelies” do a solid job of reliably, quickly, and safely transferring the fuel in one of the world’s harshest areas.

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The outside of the supply, service, and fuel arches. Buried deep in these bunkers are the tanks of AN8

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Navigating the long, sub-ice service corridors, with a constant ambient temperature of -60F.

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The fuel arch. This is where it’s all stored. Of note, since it’s stored at around -60F, there’s almost no vapor pressure in the tanks.

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In case of emergency, this is the escape hatch at the back of the fuel arch. This exit isn’t used on a normal basis, but in an emergency evacuation, this is one of the exits.

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Jeffrey DonenfeldThe South Pole’s Fuel Supply