First Biofuelled Vehicle Reaches the South Pole


Photo: Moon Reagan

Brrrrrrr.....if you think you're cold, spare a thought for these 10 guys. They are attempting the fastest vehicle crossing of Antarctica in a biofuelled vehicle. The Moon Regan Transantarctic Expedition will travel 3,600 miles across Antarctica. They have now reached the South Pole, more than half way into their journey.

These adventurers are driving this futuristic looking ice vehicle and 2 monster trucks. They are doing it to show that wheeled vehicles are viable and more environmentally-friendly than the small planes usually used to travel around this cold and terrifying part of the world.
Photo: Moon Reagan

Only two other vehicle expeditions have set out to cross Antarctica. The purpose of this journey is to show that expeditions using biofuelled vehicles can be efficient and reliable and speedy. They are also studying how human physiology reacts to extreme conditions and will be collecting samples of snow to test for trace metals and to track the passage of pollutants within the southern hemisphere. They will also monitor fuel emissions from the ice vehicle and will locate and collect samples of cosmic dust and meteorites.


Photo: Moon Regan

It's been a cold and hard struggle so far. They left Union Glacier on November 26, 2010 in -31 celsius temperatures. It is a 3,000m-high, 1,000km-wide highland in the centre of the continent which is carved into ripples and waves like a frozen ocean. "The wind forms these waves, called sastrugi, and some of them are huge. The support vehicles may look big here, but they're like little toy cars moving around in that landscape." a crew member said.

Photo: Moon Regan

The expedition, working in partnership with Imperial College London, has been 5 years in the planning stage. TreeHugger featured the vehicles in 2008.

The Winston Wong Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle (BIV) is the lead vehicle. Conceived, designed and built by Lotus Engineering, it is designed to glide over the snow and supply data on the performance of biofuel, while also using cameras and a ground-penetrating radar to study the structure of the ice itself. It holds one man and has a Rotax 914 engine which is suited to lower temperatures and higher altitude and is proven to deliver more horsepower. There is a three-blade propeller and it travels at 84 mph. It weighs 700 kgs and is light-enough to be dragged over difficult terrain, if necessary.

The team is delighted with its performance. As they write in their blog: "The Ice Vehicle had been fantastic across Antarctica, often allowed to weave its own path over the snow and ice whilst the SSVs bogged down...The Bio-Inspired Ice Vehicle goes another step further, lighter, faster and more fuel efficient than the vehicles supporting it."


Photo: Moon Regan

The two Science Support Vehicles (SSVs) carry the other ten members of the Expedition and act as mobile lab's for the Expedition. They want to show that wheel-based land vehicles are the best option - and less harmful environmentally than air travel - for long distance travel over frozen terrain. The SSVs are converted Ford Econolines.

They have not worked well: "The transmission temperature in SSV2 was dangerously high as we approached the campsite, having to stop every few minutes to allow it to cool below 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It seems even to the last leg to the Pole we were battling the conditions and the mechanical problems."

Follow their progress daily on their blog, as they make their way to the final destination, McMurdo.

More on the Ice Vehicle and Expedition
Lotus Makes Biofuel-Powered Concept Vehicle

Tags: Environmental Footprint