Two Australian adventurers have embarked upon a bold mission to drive from the Arctic Circle to the southernmost tip of Argentina, in an all-electric, solar-powered van powered solely by renewable energy harvested from the sun, wind and water.
It’s a dream that is not for the faint-hearted, traversing some of the planet’s most extreme conditions, in an eStar camper van that has been converted to allow its drivers to charge not only with renewable electricity, but with also power from the sun.
One of those drivers is Keegan Taccori, from Wollongong, who has joined forces with Joel Gregory Hayes, who hails from the Gold Coast and is the instigator of the aptly named “Route del Sol” project.
Their hope is to use the journey to help educate and inspire others about what can be done about climate change and its related issues, through talks along the way and ultimately, they hope, a full length documentary.
“Being eternally frustrated with the miss-information surrounding the many ecological issues we’re facing and with his head in the sand, [Hayes] thought he’d try run at it all from a different angle. And have a lot of fun doing it! Thus began Route Del Sol.
“Being a huge advocate for spontaneous adventures it seemed only right to just throw everything he had at it, and once I heard about the idea through a posting online I jumped on board,” says Taccori.
Before embarking upon the journey, EV outfitters Solarrolla helped Hayes fit out the van, complimenting the 80kWh flatbed battery in the base of the eStar van with a 40kWh secondary battery pack that is able to be charged by the 7kW of solar panels adorning the van.
Although this increased the van’s range from 160km to 300km, charging is slow going – the stock 80kWh battery pack uses a Level 2 AC charger that takes 8-10 hours to charge, while the secondary pack can be charged by the solar array on the roof.
The solar panels are fitted onto the van on a wing-like aluminium frame that allows Hayes and Taccori to fold up when driving along with a secondary panel on the back that can be removed and placed for optimum sun exposure.
While the secondary pack can be charged while driving, it is far more efficient to pull over and adjust the van’s angle to collect the most power possible from the sun’s rays.
When it’s not possible to charge the solar-powered van by the sun, the two plan to take advantage of off-peak grid charging times when the available energy is sourced from renewables.
The two are currently bedding down in Vancouver, Canada, after travelling 4,000km to date from the Arctic Circle in Alaska – it will be easier to travel once the sun travels higher in the sky, Taccori explains.
“The biggest challenges so far have been the lack of daylight hours in Northern Canada to charge, as well as the current impending winter, says Taccori.
“Optimally, we can get around 300kms from our two batteries, which has served us pretty well. We’re in no rush to get there, and we’re trying to reach as many people and communities on the way,” he says.
The stoic attitude of the travellers is not only inspiring, it’s necessary.
“The major issue is the proprietary system of the van (International, Estar). We cannot charge the van’s drive train batteries directly from the solar panels, and so we had to build a secondary system.
“By transferring energy between the two battery packs, we loose 10-20% of our energy! Other disadvantages are the weight of the batteries, and the manual deploying of the solar array which takes around 10-15 minutes,” Taccori says.
While the limitations of the system will mean the trip might take anything up to a few years, Taccori says due to financial constraints there are no immediate plans to upgrade charging capacity of the solar-powered van.
“The only limitations we have [with charging] are that it’s not compatible with some higher power electric vehicle chargers as the onboard 7 KW charger cannot handle the faster chargers.
“In saying all this, finances are also a limitation as a faster charger would be great, but absolutely not a priority when it comes to upgrades.
Of course, there are many advantages to the van’s solar-powered electric drivetrain, Taccori adds.
“The advantage is that we are still much more efficient compared to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, and the amount that they waste from an incomplete combustion alone.
“Also of course, we don’t have to rely on the EV infrastructure that the government provides, we of course can charge wherever there is sunlight,” he says.
Asked if the two have a wishlist to help them along their journey, Taccori replies: “Our wish list is to be picked up by an EV or engineering company that wants to fund a rebuild of the vehicle, give us lighter batteries and automate our solar array!”
For now, the two will stay put in Vancouver, and focus on a Kickstarter campaign they have launched that they hope will fund the documentary.
Then, they’ll continue on their way, to seek the sun’s energy-giving rays.
“Early next year once it’s warmed up a little we’ll be continuing onwards down the ‘sunbelt’ of the US and into Southern California and Mexico,” says Taccori.
The only leg of the trip that the two will not be able to drive is the Darién Gap which separates Panama from Colombia.
For this, they’ll need to ship the van, and plan to offset the carbon emissions as a compromise.
They’d rather ship by solar-powered barge though, and say they are extremely interested to hear from anyone who wants to contribute to the project by creating one.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.