Chocolate Makes Wheels Go Round
19 Mar 2008
Using 454 gallons of fuel made from four tonnes of waste chocolate, two young Britons Andy Pag and John Grimshaw, travelled 5,280 miles from Poole in England to Timbuktu in Mali.
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Recently, two young Britons Andy Pag and John Grimshaw, travelled 5,280 miles from Poole in England to Timbuktu in Mali. Using 454 gallons of fuel made from four tonnes of waste chocolate, it became the first carbon-negative voyage in the world. Bridget Freeman writes about their journey.
On 26th November, two adventurers set off from Poole in Dorset for Timbuktu in West Africa. Andy Pag and John Grimshaw wanted to highlight the benefits of biodiesel. Their aim was to be part of the first ever carbon-negative driving expedition to cross the Sahara Desert. The 5,280 mile journey was to be fuelled by chocolate!
Andy Pag has been organising vehicle-based expeditions across Africa for more than 12 years. John Grimshaw is also an experienced desert traveller and an excellent mechanic. ‘We chose Timbuktu as a destination partly because it’s the back of beyond,’ Andy explained. ‘If we could make it there on bio-fuel, then there’s no reason why motorists can’t use it on the school run or on their commute to work.’
Some biofuels have recently come under attack because they either divert essential food crops or cause deforestation in order to grow the crops necessary for its production. Chocolate does not fall into this category. ‘Chocolate waste used to end up in landfill but now we can make it travel as biofuel,’ Andy said. He approached Ecotrec ñ a north western firm, which makes fuel out of renewable sources. Situated near a chocolate factory, the company had developed a proprietary process for converting waste chocolate into bio-ethanol and mixing it with vegetable oil to produce biodiesel.
Their converted Ford Iveco cargo lorry, called the BioTruck’ was about to be turned into scrap before they bought it. Carrying 454 gallons of biodiesel made from four tonnes of chocolate misshapes, it did about 10 miles to every eight family-sized chocolate bars. It also transported two 4×4 converted Land Cruisers needed to traverse the last 150 miles across the pot-holed roads and shifting sands of the desert.
However, the chocolate fuel still produced some carbon emissions and this output had to be off-set. They achieved this by donating a biodiesel processing unit to the Mali-Folkecenter. This established Malian charity works with Christian Aid to develop enterprise through various environmental projects. It is cultivating the use of Jatropha oil as a fuel source ñ a weed which thrives in very arid conditions.
Jatropha can be grown in areas where there has been no agriculture and its cultivation does not threaten food crops supply. The Etruk 100 processing unit will enable biodiesel to be produced locally from sustainable sources. The carbon savings from the Malian fuel ñ estimated at 15 tonnes of carbon emissions in the first year ñ helped to make their expedition carbon-negative. A World first! ‘I wanted to do something that is carbon neutral. What we’ve actually done is carbon-negative.’ said Andy.
The journey, however, was not as smooth as chocolate. It was not made easier by their choice of vehicles either ñ all rescued from scrap yards. ‘We’re always being told that to be green you have to buy the latest gadget,’ explained John, ‘but I don’t think we should be so quick to throw things away, There’s still plenty of life in these old trucks.’
On a daily basis, the team had to carry out roadside repairs. Rusty body panels falling off, losing second gear, rear wheel blow outs, frozen fuel, broken headlights and leakages from fuel, oil, air, radiator and steering fluid, not to mention their own spine and eardrum damage from the four-week journey in a 1989 Ford Iveco Cargo. After battling with sandstorms, corrupt customs officials and narrowly escaping a shoot out with Al-Qaeda, the pair finally arrived in Timbuktu on Boxing Day 2007.
‘We’re not environmentalists at all,’ Andy points out. ‘We just wanted to do a trip that didn’t have a detrimental effect on the environment. The more we learnt about biodiesel, the more we thought that’s how we can do it.’
There is a recycling theme to the expedition too. All the salvaged equipment will remain in Mali, where it will continue to be used ñ even the BioTruck. Next year Andy plans to fly a paramotor to China using carbon-neutral fuel, made from landfill waste. ‘First step, I need to learn to fly,’ he adds.
Above: Mali-Folkecenter is currently implementing the Jatropha bio-oil project in the village of Garalo, southern Mali, to provide
300 kilowatts of power to its locals, as well as all the social benefits
and improved living standards associated with electricity
Photos: © www.malifolkecenter.org
Below: The Ecotec Team, with the vehicle powered by biodiesel fuel made from waste chocolate!
Photo: © www.biotruck.co.uk
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