Page 1


Initially, extensive research was done on various aspects on the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard, and more specifically on the town of Longyearbyen. Svalbard was studied from all angles including, but not limited to: climate, history, Tourism, Energy & Natural Resources, Demographics and my area of focus: Fauna and Flora. The research was to be explored through and clearly represented in info-graphic form. The goal was to visually map the information in a coherent and precise manner. Both for fauna and flora, broad research was to done to get a vast database of information to be able to decipher and identify the key aspects of both fields and visually reconstruct it into clear information. The exercise was performed in order to get a clear idea of the various characteristics that make Svalbard such a unique place. From this research, one could focus on an area of interest from which to develop a device, that could respond to the specific environment.


LONGYEARBYEN // Longyearbyen is the largest settlement in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard. It is the world’s northernmost major settlement with a population of 2,400.

Initial Research



One of Svalbard defining features that makes it stand out from other Arctic areas, is its vast Fauna. Highlighted on the info-graphic is a selection of animals that live either permanently or not on the archipelago. The fauna was chosen for its key role in Svalbard but also for its major population shifts over the past 30 years. The main circular graph’s top part is dedicated to four categories with two animals per category: Terrestrial Mammals with the Svalbard Reindeer and the Arctic Fox, Marine Mammals with the Polar Bear and the Harp seal, Fish with the Arctic Cod and the Capelin, and finally Birds with the Rock Ptarmigan and The Brunnich’s Guillemot. The lower part of the info-graphic focuses in on more specifics of various species, highlighting some key facts and identifying important trends.

Initial research



Whats gives Svalbard such a unique and diverse flora, is its key position in regards to warm ocean currents. The West Spitsbergen Current (WSC) brings warm water up from the Atlantic which spills into the inner fjords. Another reason for such a diverse flora is the extensive bird life on Svalbard. Due to their large flocking areas on cliffs, the area beneath them received large amounts of bird excrement, which acts as fertilizer for the plant life. The flora, as well as the fauna, are very resilient for surviving in such harsh climates, and have developed the necessary defense mechanisms to adapt to the environment.

Initial research into Svalbard



The question of sustainability in the Arctic is difficult one, mostly due to the lack of clear directionality which is highly dependent on who is benefiting from it. As far as environmental and fauna and flora issues go, they are becoming increasingly evident and worrisome. Yet, another side of sustainability in the Arctic is human life, and urban development, but is it even necessary in remote areas of the Arctic, and who does it truly benefit? At the heart of many of these current issues is the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard, the 60,000 square kilometer landmass governed by only twenty-eight people. With its landscape becoming increasingly taken over by large industries, Svalbard’s towns and communities have inevitably become definable as being of a utilitarian nature. The ever-changing landscape of the Arctic, both on the environmental and urban fronts, haphazardly encourages temporary developments which practically have a predetermined lifespan, for as long as they can still be utilized profitably. And when the environmental and geographical volatility as well as the urban instability of such a place directly relates back to major industries, a change in the function of these isolated human settlements is unequivocally linked to the industries’ desires and needs, and to which nation those industries belong. At its current state, the quasi-temporary, quasi-permanent communities of the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard, be it Longyearbyen, the Russian mining community of Barrentsburg or the research station of Ny-Ålesundamongst or others, were developed as versions of boomtowns. The very nature of these settlements being of the temporary nature, are being sustained as permanent municipalities for the time being. The unsettling trend with boomtowns, is their inevitable transformation into ghost towns. Their sole purpose relying on the natural resources that caused their creation, they quickly disappear along with resources.


COAL MINING // Svalbard depends on its coal mining to power most of its settlements, especially Longyearbyen, which has a long history of relying on the dated and highly polluting energy source. The Longyearbyen power plant burns about 25,000 tons of coal yearly.

Snow-covered roof

Salt to melt the snow/ice

It is Longyearbyen’s long history with coal that first drew me to the issue of energy in Svalbard. My initial interest was then to create a device that addressed the issue but which was also a reaction to its environmental surroundings. In many places with cold climates, salt is used to melt ice off roads and pathways, but what of the melted runoff, the salty solution that is left? What if you could place salt at strategic points on a building roof, in order to melt the snow, from which the liquid runoff could be used to flow through that same building and to power itself? Salt lowers the freezing point of water, thus melting the ice, which is the reason for using it. The second thing about salt is that when dissolved in water, it acts as an electrolyte between two metals, or electrodes, which creates a salt water battery. This is physically appropriate because of the amount of snow and ice in the surroundings, but ideologically, the battery’s limited lifespan relates to the temporality of Svalbard’s towns. The beauty is in its auto-destruction; what gives it its power is as the metals react together through the salt water, they corrode and the battery gets destroyed. And as mining disappears, so do the towns.

Further Research Sub-Title



The main concept of a saltwater battery is turning chemical reactions into electrical energy by using the reactions to push charges around. When put in a saline solution, tow electrochemically different metals or electrodes like copper and aluminum will exchange electrons released from the reaction between Aluminum and Hydroxide. This total reaction is: 4Al + 3O2 + 6H2O + 4e- __­­ ­ > 4Al(OH)3 + 2.71V

Diagram of One Chemical Cell

Testing the efficiency of the battery was a primary focus, along with identifying what materials would prove useful. It was determined early on that the battery should be able to visually represent its power which was achieved with a simple connection to an LED. The goal was to light up a white LED which requires about 3.3 volts to glow. One ‘cell’ which contains one of each metal, lying in salt water, would produce approximately 0.8 volts of current. By placing six cells , all connected in series, a battery was made, capable of producing 4.33 volts. It was quickly apparent, that substantial voltage could come from this energy source. Though two major issues arose through testing: 1. If the saline solution was shared between cells, they would act as one and produce only the voltage of a single cell. 2. If touching the water, the wire would quickly get corroded by the salt and would ruin any connection between the anode and cathode.


Resistors Limits the current in the LED to a safe value.

Coffee Necessary to the success of the experiment.

LEDs To visualize the power running through the battery.

Knife For wire stripping and general use.

Electrodes Copper and aluminum.

Battery The assembled battery with wired electrodes.

Multimeter Reads the voltage that is going through the battery.

Wire The connection between electrodes in the battery.

First Battery Tile Voltage Reading

Experimentation 01


Vertical Cell Stacking A: Overflow Method

Vertical Cell Stacking B: Sponge Method

In reaction to the two main problems identified in previous experiments, two possible solutions were developed, both relying on vertical stacking of the cells and relying on gravity to distribute the water. Water flow was the main focus of these experiments, or rather, how one could get water through each cell without sharing any of the same saline solution. Method A allowed for quick distribution of water, with it flowing smoothly between cells with an overflow chamber in between cells to allow for a ‘transfer’ area for the water. Voltage did jump around for as long as water occasionally touched. Method B was much slower due to the sponges having to absorb its maximum of water before letting the excess into the next cell. The voltage varied significantly as well, making method A much more effective.


Stacked cells A: Voltage

Stacked cells B: Voltage

Experimentation 01



Building off previous experiments, a more efficient and detailed battery tile was designed with water distribution in mind. Two versions were designed for two different types of water flow. Both were designed with gravity in mind, so as either building skin or roof attachments. Tile Design 01 relied on offsetting the tiles, allowing for a flat surface, while Tile Design 02 relied on overlapping the tiles, as in seen in roof tiles and cladding techniques. Both were designed in a 3D modeling software, without being physically tested.


TLD01 Frosted Acrylic Clear Acrylic Water Tube : In

Water Tube : Out

Tile Design 01

Experimentation 02



Frosted Acrylic

Clear Acrylic

Water Tube : In

Water Tube : Out

Tile Design 02



Acrylic Support Cell Transfer Tube Cell Water Separation


Copper Plastic Mesh Galvanized Zinc Acrylic Support

Both tile designs relied on an overflow method of water distribution within the battery, between individual cells. Salt water would enter the tile from the top by way of the water tube and flow into the first cell. The saline solution would then overflow into the top part of the cell where it would flow into the second cell and so on.

Circuit of One Tile

Each cell is composed of the two metals, copper and galvanized zinc in this case, which would be separated by a plastic mesh so that the metals would not touch and cancel each othe. And these electrodes were connected to a set of three LEDs connected in parallel. From previous experiments, it was discovered that a tile like this could produce about 4.3 volts and 5 mA of power, so an entire roof or wall of these tiles could produce significant energy.

Experimentation 02




Instead of separating all the batteries into different tiles, a move towards a unified unit, or skin, would be more efficient to produce. One where water could run continuously down this skin and power the batteries as it flowed though them. One could simply lie the skin down on an angled surface and have the salt water be carried down by gravity, thus creating energy.

First skin prototype

The first skin was designed with the final product in mind, ignoring the production method. As soon as it was decided to make the skin out of transparent plastic, for weight considerations as well as for visually conveying the water flow, the best option for assembly became the solenoid plastic welder. Simply put, hand-held welding bit sends current through the plastic, breaking its molecules apart and re-bonding them together, allowing for two sheets of plastic to be bonded together virtually instantly. Yet, the solenoid comes with its own difficulties, and isn’t as flexible as you might hope. For example, because of the size of the bit, it has a limited curvature radius on with it can turn. It quickly beacame clear that the producrion kethod must be treated with respect if this system were to work. Nevertheless, a jig was made with distinct paths for it to follow and a first prototype was made. Though, the jig proved too rigid for the solenoid and the materials used were preliminary attempts, and proved to be too imprecise.

First prototype jig

Solenoid Plastic Welder

Experimentation 03






Front Elevation: Progressing Designs


Front Elevation: Version 01 of Final Design

The various skin designs on the left start with the first design that was constructed. The ensuing layouts increasingly attempted to simplify and smooth the existing curves, not only to allow for a more effortless water flow but also for more ease of use with the solenoid plastic welder. Initial designs were developed on the computer, and then were rigidly adapted into the assembly mode permitted by the solenoid. It was quickly apparent that the work flow should run in the opposite direction, where the skins should be designed according to the capabilities of the solenoid. The resulting design was a return to simpler and straight lines, with an accompanying fluidity of the water’s path. Through extensive testing, the conclusion was the simplest of designs, relying on ease of assembly and functionality.

Experimentation 03



The device was designed to have three different skins to test with differing amounts of batteries, connections, amount of metal and amount of water that it can hold. The simple premise of the device goes as so: by placing salt over perforated metal plate in the acrylic box at the top of the device, one could shovel snow from the surroundings onto the salt, which would melt down through the skins, activating the batteries. The water acts as the final cog that get the machine running. Thus a portable energy station is created, relying on electrochemical reactions to create power.



Snow is piled on top of a bed of salt on the sheet of perforated metal. The melted saline solution then utilizes gravity to bring water down through the skins, thus activating the batteries.


Perforated Metal Sheet

Acrylic Container

Exploded Axonometric

Sub-Title Skin Development


SKN01 Battery Orientation A Composed of 4 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 2.2 V (3.3 V with JT)

Battery Orientation B Composed of 4 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 2.2 V (~3.3V with JT)

Battery Orientation C Composed of 5 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 2.75 V (3.3V with JT)

Front Elevation: Battery Skin 01


Acrylic Dry Pocket

Copper Foam Spacer Location of Metals


Joule Thief


Exploded Axonometric: SKN-1 Battery

SKN-1 is the first skin that was designed. It’s batteries are composed of five 4-cell batteries, and one 5-cell battery. Since the total voltage of these batteries is lower that what is needed to light up a white LED, a joule thief had to be added. The reason for this instead of simply more cells together in one battery was to have as many different batteries as possible as a fail-safe so more batteries could act individually. Total copper mass: 2.22 g Total aluminum mass: 0.680 g Total water volume: 752 ml Skin output: 12.5 V (17.3V with joule thief)

Skin Development


SKN02 Battery Orientation A Composed of 6 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 3.3 V

Battery Orientation B Composed of 6 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 3.33 V

Battery Orientation C Composed of 6 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 3.33 V

Battery Orientation D Composed of 8 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 4.4 V

Front Elevation: Battery Skin 02


Acrylic Dry Pocket


Location of Metals

Foam Spacer Aluminum


Exploded Axonometric: SKN-2 Battery

SKN-2 was the second skin designed with efficiency in mind. The goal was to minimize material and water volume while increasing the efficiency of individual batteries as well as total skin output. SKN-2 is composed of seven 3-cell batteries and one 4-cell battery. The skin also doesn’t rely on joule thiefs since doubling the cells per pod added enough voltage to light a white LED. Total copper mass: 0.952 g Total aluminum mass: 0.272 g Total water volume: 281 ml Skin output: 21.6 V

Skin Development


SKN03 Battery Orientation A Composed of 3 cells connected in series and a joule thief Output: 1.65 V (3.3 V with JT)

Front Elevation: Battery Skin 03


Acrylic Dry Pocket

Copper Foam Spacer Aluminum

Location of Metals

Joule Thief


Exploded Axonometric: SKN-3 Battery

SKN-3, the third and final skin, was designed with maximum voltage in mind the amount of independent batteries. The skin is composed of 25 batteries composed of three cells each, outputting 1.5 volts each, therefore also relying on joule thiefs to bring the voltage up high enough to light up a white LED. Total copper mass: 1.814 g Total aluminum mass: 0.272 g Total water volume: 485 ml Skin output: 33.75 V (80 V with joule thief)

Skin Development




Assembling and using the device in context, outdoors in the Arctic, presented some unexpected challenges. Other than the constant wind, the low temperatures also presented difficulties. The device was tested with mixtures of coarse road salt, tap water and melted snow. Challenges aside, being on site, in Longyearbyen was an eye-opener to the conditions of its inhabitants and their daily lives on the Norwegian Archipelago.



Filling the Top Container with Snow

Pictured above is the addition of snow by hand and pictured on the left is a sequence of adding snow by shovel. Because of the amount that the acrylic container could hold, either technique could be efficient, but with a shovel the process can be completed in a movement or two. On the right are water flow diagrams showing how water moves down though the skin. In all three cases gravity and an simple overflow system is what drives the water to reach all cells within the batteries. As the skins were filling up, there were occasional moments of shared salt water, but once the flow settled, each cell acted interdependently again.

Adding Snow to the Device Credit: David Garcia




SKN-3 Water Flow Diagrams

Device in Context


Flipping the Device: Stills from video Credit: David Garcia


Device Skin Close-up: Still from video Credit: David Garcia

The aluminum tube frame allowed for a lightweight structure while maintaining stability, coupled with steel joints which added their own wight to its stability. Attached to the middle joints (pictured right), were military grade cords which were attached to steel pegs which were driven into the ice with a hammer. The top and bottom joints (pictured bottom right) were the same and allowed for some flexibility and ease of assembly. They were also driven into the ice with steel pegs. Without the pegs the structure easily blew away in the wind, acting as a sail, but maintained stability when attached with 6 pegs. This allowed for the addition of snow or salt water to be done. PIctures on the left page is the emptying process, which was completed in a few seconds by flipping over the device. Water would flow out the various weep holes spread throughout the skins.

Joint Details

Credit: David Garcia

Device in Context



Time of day



15:30 - 16:30

+0.1 — +0.3°C


Precipita0,00 mm

Water tested Road salt dissolved in tap water

• Initial results showed no working lights. This is probably due to coarse nature of the road salt that was not given enough time to properly dissolve in the water. Only Skin-3 tested. • Water flow good, all water pockets filled. • Top acrylic water container spouts leaked, need to be attached to skin openings.

Date 10/01/15


Time of day



-0.2 — -0.3°C

Precipita0,00 mm

Water tested No water, only left over moisture

• Device was emptied and left out to dry. One LED was found lit on Skin-3. Additionally, over night, every other LED on Skin-3 lit up dimly. • Very little liquid, even just moisture, is enough to carry current.

Date 10/01/15


Date 11/01/15


Time of day


14:00 - 18:00

-4.4 — -3.4°C


Water tested

0,00 mm

• Fixed broken LED connections on Skin-1 and Skin-3. Connections were tested and working.

Time of day


17:00 - 22:00

-6.0 — -4.0°C

Precipita0,00 mm

Water tested Tested melting snow over a bed of salt

• Very slow method of melting snow. • Skin-1 and Skin-2 tested. LEDs did not light up.

Date 13/01/15


Time of day


10:00 - 16:00

-8.5 — -6.1°C

Precipita0,00 mm

• Wires were corroded by previous trials. • Water froze after only 10-15 minutes of testing. A higher concentration of salt would be need to lower to freezing point additionally.


Water tested Dissolved coarse sea salt

Photograph of the back side of SK-1 Credit: David Garcia

While issues were encountered as much with the connections as with water-flow of the different skins, it was interesting to note the working of SK-2 with nothing but little moisture and salt residue. This proved that the system may not need the amounts of water previously thought necessary. That efficiency could be increased through a mist or vapor system rather than a liquid one. This could be especially relevant due to the slow process of meting snow with road salt. Some of the welds were too close to each other, leading to poor water flow in SK-1 and SK-3, and the joule thiefs were not working, but all LEDs on SK-2 were lit, giving some success to the device. The materials chosen for the final version of the device proved satisfactory. The thicker plastic base layer for the skins is made up of LDPE90/PA-S95/LLDPE90 laminate and a thinner OPA15/LLDPE50 laminate from Amcor Flexibles Aps. Additionally the welds from the solenoid plastic welder did not tear, which was a possibility considering the strain under which the plastic was due to the weight of the water.

Photographs of SK-3 Credit: David Garcia

Device in Context



Device in Context



The device was a success insomuch as its aim of going to Svalbard to test its system and to perform within its environmental context was achieved. Through initial frustrations and certain deficiencies, an important discovery was made. Results were achieved with only salt residue and left over moisture, minimizing the need for as much materials and weight. But more than being an portable energy source, the device rethinks what a building skin can be, what a building can be, as a battery.

Device in Context


Profile for Julien Nolin

Salt: Portable Power in the Arctic  

An Architectural Device

Salt: Portable Power in the Arctic  

An Architectural Device