Used oil and camel fat fuel epic Aussie adventure

13 January 2012

Master's student Bob Miles, part of a team who travelled across Australia using only biofuel.
Master's student Bob Miles, part of a team who travelled across Australia using only biofuel.

Camel abattoirs don't feature prominently on your average tourist's hit list but when engineering master's student Bob Miles chanced across one in outback Australia he found himself an oasis.

Bob was one of a team of four who last year set itself the task of driving across Australia without stopping at a petrol station. The foursome powered their boat and land rover with biodiesel made from waste materials found along the way, processed into a usable fuel on a portable processing plant kept in tow. They documented their conquest on camera, with the resulting 12-part documentary series The Aussie Way Up to be broadcast on the National Geographic Channel this weekend.

Charged with producing fuel for the journey, Bob typically found himself in fish and chip shops, restaurants and cafes in search of used cooking oil but camel fat from an abattoir on the Tanami Track in the Northern Territory also powered the crew along to Halls Creeks, WA.

"The exhaust wasn't too pleasant," recalls the Master of Philosophy (Engineering and IT) student whose research into portable biodiesel plants resumes this year.

While united in their bid to promote sustainable fuels, Bob says each of his travelling companions embarked on the journey for different reasons. His main aim was to travel: "I was at the end of my aeronautical engineering undergraduate degree and really had the desire to travel. I also learnt about biodiesel through uni. It's a great way to enable sustainable travel so I thought 'Why not put the theory to test'."

Starting in April, the crew took eight weeks to traverse all eight states and territories, covering 12,000 kilometres. They ran out of fuel at least 10 times according to Bob. "It was a lot harder than I anticipated," he says. "There were moments when I felt like throwing in the towel."

But the support they received on the road strengthened their resolve. "We met people along the way who had preconceived ideas about biodiesel," says Bob of those who voiced concern about biofuel production competing with vital food supplies. "The food vs fuel debate has been resolved through second generation biofuels (using renewable sources), which don't affect the food chain.

"The only people who didn't seem too stoked with us were pre-existing biodiesel producers. That's because we're about to publicise the fact anyone can go to a fish and chip shop, take their waste and turn it into fuel."

Bob and his fellow travellers - Oscar Peppitt, Justin Hancock (both University of Sydney alumni) and Chuck Anderson - are hoping to go global later this year, travelling to Norway by second generation biodiesel-fuelled boat and car. When they're not planning epic journeys and looking for ways to pay their bills the foursome promotes 'Designer Sustainability' on their Green Way Up website.

The team covered 12,000km on their journey.
The team covered 12,000km on their journey.

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