Why | Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Why | Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Why do we need a global seed vault?

Worldwide, more than 1,700 genebanks hold collections of food crops for safekeeping, yet many of these are vulnerable, exposed not only to natural catastrophes and war, but also to avoidable disasters, such as lack of funding or poor management. Something as mundane as a poorly functioning freezer can ruin an entire collection. And the loss of a crop variety is as irreversible as the extinction of a dinosaur, animal or any form of life. The Seed Vault stores duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections as a safeguard against such catastrophic loss.

How does it work?

The Seed Vault is the ultimate insurance policy for the world’s food supply, securing millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today and offering options for future generations to overcome the challenges of climate change and population growth.

A temperature of −18°C is required for optimal storage of the seeds. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. The seeds are sealed in custom-made three-ply foil packages, which are sealed inside boxes and stored on shelves inside the Seed Vault. The low temperature and moisture levels inside the Seed Vault ensure low metabolic activity, keeping the seeds viable for long periods of time.

The storage

Currently, the Seed Vault holds more than 1.1 million seed varieties, originating from almost every country in the world. These range from unique varieties of major African and Asian food staples such as maize, rice, wheat, cowpea and sorghum to European and South American varieties of eggplant, lettuce, barley and potato. In fact, the Seed Vault already holds the most diverse collection of food crop seeds in the world.

The objective of the Seed Vault is to safeguard as much of the world’s unique crop genetic material as possible, while also avoiding unnecessary duplication. It will take some years to assemble because some genebanks need to multiply stocks of seed first, and other seeds need regenerating before they can be shipped to Svalbard.


Who can take the seeds out?

The seed boxes are stored under “black-box conditions,” meaning the depositors are the only ones who can withdraw their own seeds. When seeds are deposited in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, their legal ownership is not transferred. This means that a depositor who chooses to store seeds in the Seed Vault is still the owner of the seeds and the only one who can withdraw them from the Seed Vault.

What groups are involved in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault?


The Seed Vault is owned and administered by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food on behalf of the Kingdom of Norway and is established as a service to the world community. The Global Crop Diversity Trust provides support for the ongoing operations of the Seed Vault, as well as funding for the preparation and shipment of seeds from developing countries to the facility. The Nordic Genetic Resources Center (NordGen) operates the facility and maintains a public online databaseof samples stored in the seed vault. An International Advisory Council oversees the management and operations of the Seed Vault.


Opportunities | Hybrid-Electric Aircraft

Opportunities | Hybrid-Electric Aircraft

Coming test flights will be a step toward passenger version

MANASSAS, Virginia — Electra.aero believes the two-seat hybrid-electric demonstrator it unveiled here last night puts it on the path toward completing a nine-passenger commercial version in time to enter service in 2028.

This commercial version of the short takeoff and landing aircraft will be able to “get in and out of the Wall Street heliport and have a range of 500 miles with its full payload,” Electra founder and CEO John Langford said in an interview ahead of the rollout of the technology demonstrator, dubbed the EL-2 Goldfinch. “Over time, we envision a lot of different variants.”

Electra said the technology demonstrator and the nine-seater aircraft in most circumstances will need only 150 feet (45 meters) to take off or land — and definitely no more than 300 feet (90 meters). This will enable the fixed-wing aircraft to have “the operating flexibility of a helicopter,” Langford said.

John Langford, founder and CEO of Electra.aero, described the company’s EL-2 Goldfinch demonstrator before it was unveiled June 12 at Manassas Regional Airport. Credit: Aaron Karp for Aerospace America

Plans call for the Goldfinch to fly for the first time in a few weeks from Manassas Regional Airport, the Virginia general aviation airport where Electra is based. Electra has planned hundreds of test flights from Manassas and other locations. On the first flight, Electra won’t worry about the “ultra-short” goal, said John Hansman, the MIT aeronautics professor who will pilot the Goldfinch and is serving as a technical adviser to Electra, in a brief interview following the unveiling.

“We’ll fly conventional takeoff and landing and get the basic handling qualities validated and make sure that there are no problems,” he said about plans for the first flight. Hansman will be the only person onboard the aircraft because Electra’s experimental airworthiness certificate from FAA initially will only allow for one person.

While Hansman could take the Goldfinch as high as 10,000 feet during the first flight, the aircraft’s operating parameters will be determined by FAA, which must factor in Manassas Regional Airport’s proximity to Washington Dulles International Airport.

“We’re fairly restricted at the beginning,” Hansman said, noting that flight testing will eventually take place at locations beyond Manassas with more operating flexibility. He’ll take the Goldfinch up and toward a targeted air speed of 60 knots (111 kph).

To achieve the ultra-short takeoffs and landings, air will be blown and accelerated over the modified Cessna 172 wing to create an aerodynamic effect that will make the wing seem “larger than it physically is,” Langford said.

“What happens is the blowing is deflected by the flaps,” Hansman added, referring to the gray structures under the aircraft wings. “You get some lift from the deflection. In addition, the blowing goes over the top of the wing, so it delays stall. You can fly higher angles of attack than you could if you didn’t have that. Those two things together allow you to get a very high lift.”


Electra envisions that with this blown-lift technique, the passenger version could take off and land from a hospital parking lot.

While electric propulsion is critical for takeoff and landing, traditional fuel will power the aircraft in cruise, Langford said.

“Our normal mode of operation at takeoff is for the batteries and the turbo generator to work together, and then they work together again at landing,” Langford explained. “But during the cruise phase, it is operating entirely on the turbo generator, and, in fact, the turbo generator is recharging the batteries that were used for takeoff.”

Electra’s technology development is being funded in part by NASA and the U.S. Air Force Agility Prime program. Electra says it has 1,200 preorders for the nine-seater. A prototype of the nine-seat production aircraft is slated to be built by 2025.