Solar Voyager. Crédito: Divulgação/Clean2Antarctica

Plastic vehicle ready to tour the South Pole

A vehicle built from 200 kg of recycled waste plastic is solar-energy-powered and converts ice and snow into drinkable water for its crew. The mission goal is to raise awareness on waste

Dutch couple Liesbeth and Edwin ter Velde packed up for the Earth’s south most pole tip. Their 30-day drive should run through 2400 km of an icy desert where, although the sun never sets, the average temperature is -30°C. Part of the Clean 2 Antarctica (C2A) Project, the adventure aims at raising awareness on general waste, mainly when it comes to plastic.

To accomplish this, the C2A crew designed a particular vehicle built mostly of recycled waste plastic. Standing 16 meters in length and weighing 1485 kg, the Solar Voyager is kind of an all-terrain vehicle moving at a maximum speed of 8 km/h and capable of storing food for up to 47 days of the expedition. All this is made possible by ten solar panels that power the vehicle’s electric engine and its extracting system, which draws ice and snow from the ground and converts them into drinkable water.

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“The Antarctic holds 90% of the world’s ice and belongs to no one. It has been declared a zero-waste area by law and features as a perfect zero-waste adventure destination. We can learn from the Antarctic and ensure it remains unspoiled,” explain the expedition founders, who expect that only half a kilogram of waste would be generated over the 30-day journey - this will be ultimately reused up. The crew has planned to set out on November 28.

“We also want to increase awareness on the Antarctic Treaty. Should it not be extended in 2048, the continent would be open to commercial exploitation,” point out the expedition organizers.

What the Antarctic Treaty is all about

Twelve countries (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Soviet Union [currently Russia], the United Kingdom, and the United States) disputing ownership of the Antarctic Continent territories signed on December 1st, 1959, the Antarctic Treaty, a collective agreement which defined that the area should be used for peaceful purposes only and established an International Scientific Cooperation System “on the ice”. In effect since 1961, the Treaty and its related agreements are observed today by 50 member nations, including Brazil. 

How was the vehicle built?

The Solar Voyager project involved hundreds of children from the Dutch city of Zwolle, who collected the recycled plastic amount required to build the vehicle. They collected 200 kg of plastic, most of it in the form of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) retrieved from plastic refreshment bottles. This whole material was melted and converted into pellets to power 40 3D tailor-made printers.

These 3D printers produced thousands of six-sided plastic pieces. Together, these pieces of nearly 10 cm in size made up the Solar Voyager’s full body.  “Plastic is not expected to corrode under extreme cold. That’s why we designed pieces like these and did not use ordinary materials, such as screws and bolts,” explain the builders.
 

Peças do Solar Voyage. Crédito: Divulgação/Clean2Antarctica

“The streets are paved with gold, if you’re only willing to see it. All valuable materials used in the construction of the Solar Voyager’s body were found by young urban miners, who collected waste plastics on the streets of their hometowns, or retrieved them from wastebins,” says the C2A team. 

They also added that their initiative intends to help to change today’s global mindset on using and wasting all kinds of materials.