— MIPT is the author of the project of the Arctic station "Snowflake", which will be located in the so-called Jade Valley of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YNAO). What is the purpose of the station and when will the construction work start?

"We create Snowflake for interdisciplinary applied research, experiments, field tests and demonstrations.

These works are of great practical importance for launching new green energy equipment, advanced telecom developments for high latitudes, new models of construction technologies into mass industrial production, primarily in terms of monitoring and thermal stabilization of permafrost soils.

In addition, the research that will be carried out at Snowflake is necessary for the creation and subsequent production of specialized robotics for the harsh climate, medical Arctic products, the development of solutions in the field of food security in the North and the best practices of environmentally friendly technologies in order to significantly improve the quality of life in the Arctic.

The functionality of "Snowflake" will fully meet the tasks facing our state and companies operating in the Arctic.

The station will be located on soils frozen for tens of meters, near Salekhard. To be more precise, this is the Jade Valley, known for the fact that there is one of the most beautiful passes in the mountains of the Polar Urals. This geographical point was not chosen by chance. The Jade Valley is a well-blown area that allows, we hope, to fully apply the wind potential to the production of green energy.

To date, the engineering center "Autonomous Energy" of MIPT has fully developed design and estimate documentation for the construction of the station, and on March 6 we received a positive conclusion from the FAU "Glavgosexpertiza". The examination process was not fast, since our technological documentation is extremely non-standard, primarily due to the so-called hydrogen cycle. I would like to emphasise that Russia is the first in the world to create such an object.

Further, the Snowflakes project awaits approval by the Ministry of Education and Science and other departments for inclusion in the FAIP (Federal Targeted Investment Program. - RT), which will become a source of financing for construction work. Naturally, we will also attract private investment, but already at the stage of experimental work to finalize, test and demonstrate in practice technological solutions, especially in the field of hydrogen energy and life support systems.

We expect that in the spring and summer of this year, the state will determine the general contractor and construction in the Polar Urals will begin.

MiPT works in cooperation with many partner organizations on the Snowflakes project. For example, on the manufacture of hydrogen technological equipment, we cooperate with more than ten major universities and academic institutes. These are the best teams in Russia.

  • Jade Valley
  • © Press Service of the Government of yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

— What will the station look like and what research will be carried out on it?

- The main complex "Snowflakes" will consist of dome-shaped buildings. This is not only a beautiful design move, but also a well-thought-out functional solution dictated by the need to reduce wind and snow loads. Also, the sphere means a smaller volume of the building with the same usable area, and accordingly, more modest energy costs for ventilation and heating of premises.

According to the plan, seven domes will be erected, connected by passages. The premises will be adapted to everything necessary for the life, work and leisure of the station staff and guests in a harsh climate. A "smart home / settlement" system will function at the station, artificial intelligence will be involved in scientific work and everyday life to support the adoption of engineering decisions for the operation of the station in difficult climatic conditions.

The main complex will house comfortable living quarters, a dining room, a sports hall, a medical center, as well as laboratories. It will be joined by a technological complex. It will be an H-shaped (H symbolizes hydrogen. - RT) one-story building with workshops, a garage, engineering and electrical rooms, as well as a fire station and a warehouse for storing materials.

For most of the work, engineers and scientists will not have to go outside, since all key objects will be connected by covered all-weather passages.

Some structures will be located separately. For example, the astronomical observatory will be located at some distance from the main buildings due to the so-called light pollution (the effect created by artificial sources, the light of which is scattered in the lower layers of the atmosphere and interferes with astronomical observations. – RT).

Also on the territory of the station will be equipped with sites with open landfills.

We plan to deploy more than ten areas of applied scientific research at Snezhinka, for which the appropriate infrastructure will be created - an astronomical and geomagnetic observatory, a low-aperture seismic group (broadband observatory), a small aerological station, a testing ground for promising samples of renewable energy equipment (renewable energy sources) and hydrogen energy, as well as a testing ground for new technologies for the thermal stabilization of permafrost Soil.

Along with this, a pavilion for geotechnical monitoring of permafrost degradation, as well as a platform for measuring the capacity of the seasonal melt layer and the thermal state of permafrost will be located on the territory of the station.

"Snowflake" will be the world's first scientific and educational complex that will run on hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen and carbon-free renewable energy are the main driver of the creation of the station, which pulls up the rest of the vectors of work.

— Could you explain why in the Arctic, which is rich in the same natural gas, it is so necessary to develop renewable energy sources and hydrogen energy?

— Natural gas should be used rationally in centralized networks. But to carry out gasification in the Arctic is extremely expensive and therefore almost unrealistic.

Since Soviet times, in the northern latitudes, the basis of energy is diesel fuel, which must be imported during a very short summer. Logistics are extremely expensive, the conditions for generating energy from diesel generator sets will never be comparable to the work of centralized mainland power plants. As a result, the cost of a kilowatt-hour in the Arctic reaches 200 rubles, in some places much higher.

  • Snowflake graphic image
  • © Press Service of the Government of yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

In remote settlements of the Arctic and the Far East, the cost of electricity exceeds the average figures tenfold, tariffs for the population are subsidized by the state, which bears the brunt of financing the industry.

Given the specifics of the Arctic, it is much more rational to use renewable energy sources as widely as possible, and with them hydrogen storage devices, taking into account the future practice of their safe implementation and serial production by Russian companies.

Thus, in the northern latitudes it will be possible to create autonomous energy sources and life support systems of a closed type. Relatively speaking, wind generators, solar power plants and hydrogen energy storage systems will operate in an isolated village, which will allow using diesel generator sets only as a backup power source.

It won't happen tomorrow — the whole world is moving towards it gradually. In the field of application of wind turbines in the North, we are looking, among other things, at the experience of Arctic colleagues from other countries. They also rely mainly on diesel, but at the same time actively experiment with renewable energy sources.

On the polar day, solar photo panels work. This is a relatively simple additional source of energy, which, unfortunately, is irrelevant during the polar night, when the loads in the local power grid increase manifold due to low insolation and maximum operation of heat-generating equipment. Therefore, in winter in the Arctic, energy from local renewable energy sources will be only from the wind. Its excess can be accumulated in hydrogen for subsequent use on windless days.

Naturally, investments are needed to switch to a new energy model, and at the first stage during the experimental test implementations, this financing of Snowflake will fall mainly on the shoulders of the state. These funds will be used to create landfills and specialized infrastructure for hydrogen technologies.

At the same time, the unconditional main advantage of green hydrogen obtained by electrolysis of water from the energy of renewable energy sources is its almost absolute environmental friendliness. Because of this factor, green hydrogen is one of the key elements of national and corporate strategies for the transition to carbon neutrality in climate agendas around the world, including in Russia.

I repeat, hydrogen is mainly used as a battery of green energy of renewable energy sources, that is, in fact, we are talking about a "hydrogen battery". At the end of the hydrogen cycle, fuel cells are turned on, where the reverse electrolysis process takes place on the membranes: we receive electrical and thermal energy, as well as distilled water.

I want to emphasize that the essence of our work with hydrogen is to test practical experimental solutions that, if further replicated in various sectors of the economy, will lead to a reduction in the cost of a kilowatt-hour, improving the quality and reliability of power supply.

Our research in the field of hydrogen energy is not science for science's sake. We see how the market for hydrogen technologies is gradually forming in the world. Russia is able to compete in this market with its solutions, to sell not only hydrogen itself, but also equipment for its production, storage, transportation and use. And if today the hydrogen economy still has the character of pilot expensive projects, then with the transition to industrial scaling, we will see a significant change. For a number of key sectors in the world, the economic basis of the so-called energy transition is already observed.

  • Scheme of the future Arctic station "Snowflake"
  • © Press Service of the Government of yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

— Why can't nuclear energy be developed in the Arctic instead of hydrogen?

— In no way do I question the need to develop and implement new solutions in the nuclear energy sector in the North. But there are also many nuances, and the answers are ambiguous.

In the Arctic, ultra-low-power nuclear reactors may be relevant. But it should be understood that such power plants significantly exceed the real needs of 99% of Arctic settlements. In addition, the equipment of the nuclear industry is still quite large, which objectively complicates its logistics in the Arctic.

Ultra-low-power reactors are much more expedient to use to supply industrial large facilities, and not to provide energy to isolated settlements.

We try to fit hydrogen and other engineering equipment in the dimensions of a 40-foot container for transportation not only by rail, but also by automobile equipment on the "last mile".

— How did you think about safety issues when using hydrogen?

— To minimize the danger of working with hydrogen on snowflake, we applied many technical solutions. The electrolysis zone, the technical premises of hydrogen fuel cell power plants, hydrogen gas distribution cabinets – everywhere we use modern systems for detecting dangerous gas concentrations, automatic overlapping of hydrogen pipelines and a specialized fire extinguishing system.

In addition, we crush the tanks of hydrogen cylinders to minimize the consequences of their potential depressurization.

- Initially, the Snowflake was planned as an international project, in which the countries participating in the Arctic Council (the USA, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden), as well as representatives of observer countries, could be involved. It is clear that for political reasons, broad cooperation with foreign countries is impossible. Nevertheless, are there prospects for cooperation with other states?

- I will not deny that the intensity of contacts with foreign colleagues has somewhat decreased. However, the dialogue on joint programs at Snowflake is still conducted with a number of partners, primarily from the People's Republic of China and India. We are consulting with our Arab colleagues and even with Latin America.

We are calm about the current situation. From the very beginning, Russia relied solely on its reserves and resources to create the Snezhinka MAS, active work with foreign colleagues was planned and is now planned since the station was put into test operation and the physical ability to carry out a number of research projects on it. Therefore, we are working further with even greater energy, ahead of the beginning of construction and the implementation of all the outlined bold engineering plans. There is no need to be bored!