On Mount Everest at the push of a button

From snowstorms on the highest summits to the heat of desert regions – the terraXcube, opened in November 2018, is a unique environmental simulation system which can artificially simulate the extreme climatic conditions of planet Earth at the push of a button for research purposes

Temperatures from –40°C to +60°C, artificial solar radiation, 60 mm of rain per hour, 5 cm of snow per hour, wind speeds of up to 108 km/h as well as simulated air pressure and oxygen content conditions for up to 9,000 metres above sea level: all of these are artificially generated climate conditions with which a new age of industrial, medical and ecological research can begin in Bolzano, Italy.

Impressive environmental simulation system

Located at Bolzano’s NOI Techpark, the terraXcube consists of several simulation chambers known as cubes. In these cubes, which vary in size and equipment, climate conditions are simulated. This infrastructure is of enormous value, in particular for the research areas of alpine emergency and altitude medicine and the alpine ecology, as it enables the terraXcube to reproduce real-life scenarios in a safe and verifiable environment.

Fulfils the complex and individual requirements when it comes to cooling: the [CF] Systems – the system from Fischer Kälte-Klima with BITZER screw compressors. Image: Christof Fischer GmbH
Fulfils the complex and individual requirements when it comes to cooling: the [CF] Systems – the system from Fischer Kälte-Klima with BITZER screw compressors. Image: Christof Fischer GmbH

The heart of the Large Cube on the ground floor is the 360 m³ simulation room which is ideal for complex tests with large space requirements and the highest technical demands. Consisting of a test chamber, clinic, control room and also a lock room with sanitary facilities for the test persons, this simulation area offers sufficient room to carry out human medicine studies on up to 15 people. Over a period of up to 45 days, a clinical real-time monitoring of each individual person is guaranteed in order to precisely examine their physical reaction to extraordinary climatic conditions. However, the climate chamber can also be used to subject systems and units with large dimensions, for example snowcats, to extreme environmental pressures and thus test their performance under particularly severe environmental conditions.

Eurac Research is the institution behind the terraXcube test infrastructure. The private research centre with headquarters in Bolzano was founded in 1992 as a private association with only 12 members. Today it employs more than 400 researchers from a wide range of disciplines who deal with the core challenges of our time: creating regions which are attractive to live in, contributing to a healthy society and protecting and shaping diversity – social, cultural, economic and ecological. The research work ties in with locally relevant concerns so that solutions can be drawn up which are then also able to be applied elsewhere in the world. That is how the idea of the terraXcube came about – probably the most unusual laboratory in the research centre.

A unique project

The one-of-a-kind project was realised by the company regineering with headquarters in the Bavarian town of Preith on behalf of Eurac Research. regineering was responsible for the detailed planning, design and building of the entire system. Construction of the building shell began in June 2017 and the system was opened on time in November 2018.

The terraXcube
The terraXcube enables the simultaneous combination of environmental parameters in order to simulate complex multifactor scenarios. Image: Christof Fischer GmbH

In order to fulfil the complex and individual requirements and goals of Eurac Research in terms of cooling, regineering drew on its own specialised experts in a variety of areas as well as external partners with a high level of expertise. For example, regineering worked closely with the [CF] Systems division at Christof Fischer GmbH in the field of refrigeration system technology. They jointly developed an individual system concept tailored to the specific requirements of the terraXcube.

The three ready-to-connect compound systems in the terraXcube were constructed by Fischer Kälte-Klima at its Stuttgart plant and integrated during the construction process by KKR – Kälte Klima Röhler from Bolzano together with regineering. The terraXcube’s refrigeration system uses, among other things, an R449A brine chiller on the basis of semi-hermetic BITZER screw compressors. Two BITZER screw compressors type HSK 8551-110 as well as a further BITZER screw compressor type HSK 7471-90 were installed in the chiller with a cooling capacity of 470 kW at t₀ = –14°C in place of an individual compressor solution for better part load behaviour of the system.

The terraXcube: facts and figures

Requirements: simultaneous combination of the environmental parameters in order to simulate complex multifactor scenarios.

Simulated maximum altitudeup to 9,000 m with corresponding air pressure and oxygen content
Temperature range-40 °C to + 60 °C
Windup to 108 km/h
Precipitationrain up to 60 mm/h and snow up to 50 mm/h
Lightningday/night simulation of up to 1,000 lux
ClientEurac Research, Bolzani, Italy
Planning, design and constructionregineering GmbH, Preith, Germany
System provider of refrigerationChristof Fischer GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany
Refrigeration techniciansKKR – Kälte Klima Röhler, Bozen, Italy
Completed30. November 2018
Invvestment costsapprox. 5 Millionen Euro

The terraXcube is a highly ambitious project which is expected to provide far-reaching insights for medicine, agriculture and industry in the future. Nothing stands in the way of operation after successful detailed planning, designing and construction of the entire system by the team of experts at regineering and the expertise of [CF] Systems in the composite construction of refrigeration systems as well as the components which have been perfectly tailored to the requirements. The terraXcube will thereby develop into a European reference centre and a reference point for public and private institutions in the future.

Author: Christof Fischer GmbH

This article first appeared in the 06/2019 edition of the trade magazine Kälte Klima Aktuell. It has been shortened for use in COMPACT.

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