Good Energy

The guys at Good Energy have been really supportive and excited about the expedition, so much so that they have made a contribution which allows me to keep the blog regularly updated during the expedition, so they and everyone else can follow the journey. Good Energy supplies 100% renewable electricity sourced from wind, water, sun and sustainable biomass. CO2 from coal-fired electricity generation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Switch your electricity supply to Good Energy using this link and not only will you be supporting the pioneering community of independent green generators, but for every sign up they get they’ll make another donation to help get the bus around the world. It helps you cut your personal CO2 emissions, helps them grow a great business, and helps me get round the world.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Power to the People

Today Esther was telling me about an island community in Denmark which generates almost all of it's own electricity, and it made me think about the different approaches of governments to building renewable energy generating capacity.

Here in the UK I've noticed an emphasis on big "top down" schemes. Large scale wind farms that create a backlash from local communities who don't want the "ugly" wind generators on their landscape. The logic is that this is the only way to create the scale of capacity that's needed.

It's an interesting aside that so many landmarks of the industrial revolution (viaducts, canals, railway lines) are now thought of as beautiful national treasures, yet many inspired the same distaste and backlash in their day.

The Danes have a different approach which is to enable and encourage communities to build their own renewable energy generating capacity. This means that people have a sense of ownership over the energy and adopt them rather than resist them. I hate to belie my hippy Luddite leanings, but local is always the best solution.

In the UK we also have a scheme that subsidises individual homes' renewable energy, but this again doesn't have the same impact as a community sharing the scheme. Wind generators and PV arrays have a physical presence which is felt within a community, even if it's on an individuals property, so it makes sense to encourage communal ownership, and share the communal benefits (and costs).

In practice "community groups" that are empowered enough to actually implement a renewable energy scheme are pretty thin on the ground, and I struggle to imagine the residents on our street deciding to club together to put up a wind generator. However, given the right incentives I'm sure it could happen, and if you can create a rollout-able model (like Neighbourhood Watch) then it could be a great way of producing significant renewable energy capacity.

Friday, 28 August 2009

The Biotruck Index

I spotted a couple of solar panels on the community centre in Oxted today, and it reminded me I haven't done any work on developing the Biotruck Index.

The idea behind the index is to put a number/rank/score to a place (country or region) that gives an indication on how effectively they are moving towards (or away from) low carbon life, based on the subjective observations I can make as I travel through.

With the advice of Janet and Daniela, I've isolated a few factors that I think are key.
  • Energy Production's, how quickly are renewable energy being adopted?
  • Transport, how green is the transport infrastructure.
  • Agriculture, is food production industrialised or local.
  • Education and Attitudes. Is the need for "low carbon" strong in the psyche and do people have an accurate sense of what needs to be done.
The index is a work in progress and will be until I leave, but here's my thinking so far:

Energy Production, How many KW of renewable capacity do I see/mile. I'm always on the look out for solar panels on roofs and wind generators. I can estimate the panel power but I don't have much experience of guessing the power rating of wind generators. I'll have to do a bit of research on that.

Transport, I want to look at sustainable fuel use, but this is really dificult to do, and other approaches might factor in the popularity of public transport.

Agriculture, Is food mass produced and bought in supermarkets, or is it locally grown and sold in street markets. There's a sliding scale in between that. Maybe I can count my own shopping, and answer the question, how easy is it to find local produce.

Education and Attitudes. This is really the big question in my view, and I'd like to weight the score of this so it's as important as the rest combined. The tricky part is how to quantify attitudes and accurate knowledge.

I did also want to look at construction as it apparently has a big impact on global CO2 emissions, and the use of sustainable and locally sourced materials, but I don't really know how I can do this.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Updated Schedule

Assuming this time the brakes pass the test..., I'll be MOTing the bus on Friday, then doing some publicity shots over the weekend, issuing the press campaign on Monday and aiming to set off on the 4th or 5th of September.

From there I'll head down to Milan to pick up my first passenger, my dad, and together we'll travel to Istanbul via Croatia, Albania and Greece.

I have to collect some visas in Istanbul, before heading into Iran, ideally via Georgia and Azerbaijan.

In Tehran I'll try to get the best information I can about the security status of the road to Pakistan and make the decision weather to take that route and on to India and South East Asia, or if it is too unsafe I will have to cut up north and head into Russia. This isn't my preferred route as it will be cold and that will play havoc with the vegetable oil. I'd much prefer to head into India and then ship across to Indonesia and work my way back up north towards China.

Maersk Line are organising the shipping across the Pacific to Seattle, and from there the plan is to head to up into Canada, and then back down through the Americas finishing in Argentina, where again Maersk Line will help me ship back to Europe, and finish the journey back to the UK.

Monday, 24 August 2009


So for the 3rd time the bus has now failed for it's brake imbalance, so it's really not a question of adjusting them, and in fact a closer look at the hubs indicates that something is leaking and contaminating the inside.

This could either be axle oil from the differential.
-The drive shaft sits in a hollow tube, the axle, which is full of oil, and at the end of the tube are seals that are designed to let the drive shaft spin, but hold in the oil. These rubber seals perish with time and age, and then leak oil out into the brake drums contaminating the them and preventing them from working properly.

Alternatively it's the brake fluid which is leaking out from the callipers and contaminating the shoe. Either way, the shoes will have to be relined or replaced as once they are contaminated there isn't really much you can do to resuscitate them.

Either way they have to be opened up and then the right parts replaced. Next MOT retest on Friday.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Where it began, I can't begin to knowin'

Over the last few days, I've spoken to as many of my neighbours as I have in the rest of the other 3 years that I've lived in this street. Everyone is very curious and intrigued by the bus. A lot have read about me in the past in the local paper so they've guessed that I am preparing for another adventure.

Today Junior my neighbour from next door, came to hang out in the evening in the bus and chew the fat. He'd come round this morning to see the progress too before setting off for work. Lynn from the other side is very jealous and now she want a bus made of rubbish. She's got a shower curtain for me.

A guy that was driving past stopped to ask me what it was all about and if I knew a mechanic that would look at this veg powered merc. I put him on to P. round the corner, who gave me the most lenient MOT on my car. I wish I could fit the bus in his garage. The double glazing fitter, Hamid from Afghanistan came over after spotting the rear window on the bus, and offered me some repair adhesive in case the tank has a leak. - He told me Baluchistan is really dangerous, and not to go there. And a guy from Guyana asked me all about it cos he wants to take a bus back home with him when he moves back after 20 years living in the UK.

My street is really friendly anyway, and maybe it's the summer effect too, but I think as much as anything it's the bus that brings out friendly side to people. Funny how vehicles can do that. Touching me, touching you...

Today I also learnt about a squatters commune in Zurich that are focused on recycling. They have commandeered a disused factory. It reminded me that although this is all new and exciting to me, actually there is a wide traveller community that out of financial necessity recycle, repair and generally make use of the stuff they find. I was tryng to think why what I am doing is different.

It reminded me of a story a friend John told me. He lived in a horse drawn trailer for a number of years, and wherever he parked little old ladies would bring him out a cup of tea or a freshly baked pie. Then he sold his trailer and horse and moved into a converted hippy bus. The same little old ladies would then call the police and tell him to fuck off when he tried to park in the same places.

I'm really keen to visit the Swiss community and see if there is something practical I can contribute to the group and learn from them.

Another week, another Euro.

Yet another week has gone by and it doesn't feel like I am any closer to departure.

Still no MOT although that should be sorted on Monday morning, and then I'll stop banging on about it.

Since last week the Graffiti Kings have sprayed the bus and it looks amazing, and the interior is coming along nicely. Ecovolt panels are powering the battery, the fridge is workinging, the sink and shower are in place though not plumbed in. The toilet just needs a low current fuse, and for the pee tube to be connected up to the waste tank.

The bus still needs finishing on the inside, with carpet, and the lighting circuit and holders need to be fitted to take the Good Energy LED bulbs (can't wait to see how bright they are).

Then I have to fit the engine conversion valves into the fuel lines, move the centrifuge to a higher position, plumb in the heat exchanger and check the integrity of the tank. I'm really worried it will have a leak and it's all so inaccessible now it will be a right bugger to fix if it does. Still, no point worrying about a solution until there is a problem.

Toying with the idea of delaying by another week, as I have realised I haven't sorted out any of my life while I'm going to be away. That would make departure a total of 3 weeks late, mainly due to the difficulty in MOTing a Camper/Tanker, but also due to my hugely optimistic estimates about how long it will all take to finish.

Despite the endless 16 hour days which I am loving, there don't seem to be enough days between now and leaving, to fit it all in. Plus now that Esther can only come for the first weekend, there is no longer any urgency. The only problem I have is the embarrassment of telling all the sponsors it's delayed again and having them think I can't even organise something as simple as packing my bags. The team at Eurotunnel have been great and have rebooked me twice now. I just don't have the heart to ask them again.

New tyres arriving today. Couldn't find retreads and everyone warned me that they would be unreliable so I am using new ones. The front ones are OK but 3 of the back ones are legal but too low for any long distance. I'm going to change all 4 and keep the good one as a spare. I did want to use Eco tyres but the sponsors fell through cos they decided it was too short notice. How ironic that the delay would have meant they probably would have been able to help out.

Another benefit of waiting one more week is that CDT and TVT have been testing a new engine modification which reduces emissions further, and this has now been certified as bringing engines in line with Euro 6 emissions standards. That's the standards that vehicles will have to meet by 2011. It's so new that the details of the standard is still be finalised. You can't even buy a certified Euro 6 vehicle today. The delay means TVT would have time to fit the modification to the bus and it would probably become the first Euro 6 vehicle in London, if not the world... Muahahahaaa.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Iran here we come.

The agent tells me I have been approved and my visa reference number for Iran has been issued. I still haven't seen it as the payment is being processed, but that really great news.

Evan at Archinoetics in Hawaii is developing the Epic Tracker, which will work in conjunction with our Solardata GPS tracker. The Epic Tracker brings together google earth maps and imagery with twitter, and the blog so you can see where I am, where I've been and what I was doing there.

It's a unique bit of interactivity for the website and I can't wait to see how it will look.

At the moment I left the GPS tracker on in my car, which is parked in Oxford at a friends place while I test out the battery life on a charge.

Tryin' to MOT a refurb, They said no no no.

Three times the bus has been refused a test now, not failed, but refused a test.

In the first place the guy said there would be a problem with the lack of seat belts, but he suggested using a loop whole that meant if the bus had 8 seats it wouldn't need them. This seemed strange to me, but it was confirmed by a call to VOSA. And has since turned out to be complete rubbish in so far as, if it has 8 seats or 1 seat, it doesn't need seat belts because of the age and weight.

But in the meantime we fitted 7 more seats (I was keen to let the composting toilet count as a seat but at that stage didn't want to take any more risks).

The first guy had just been granted his MOT license and it became clear he didn't really have the confidence in our bus and didn't want to test it in case he got into trouble if it was on the telly.

So we took it to test centre 2 who took one look at it and decided I was a no good gypsy traveller and came up with some BS excuse about their brake tester not being certified for the axle weight of the vehicle. Utter nonsense since they have been doing MOT's on heavy horseboxes and campervans for years.

So finally we decided the only way to get somewhere was to take it to a VOSA testing centre. These are notoriously strict government run centres for lorries, but at least the people there know the rules and won't turn you away if your vehicle looks a bit shoddy.

They refused us too. Reason: Vehicle unclassifiable. It still isn't fully finished inside and they said until it was a bit more tidy they couldn't test it. But they did give me permission to drive it anywhere in the country on that day. Apparently you can dive from Lands End to John O'groats on the day of your test. And they did give me another test date on the following Wednesday so I would have time to fit a permanent kitchen, and take out all those bloody seats.

The kitchen is now in, though I am still waiting for the woodgas stove from the US, so will probably fit a gas stove for the test.

The crazy thing was that the inspector told me it doesn't matter if none of it works, but it has to be permanently fitted. Leaving aside the existential question of how do you define permanence, the rules are so vague they don't even specify what has to be permanently fitted. So I was at the mercy of the discretion of the tester who by that time had entrenched into a position and wasn't going to allow it.

He also suggested that if I wanted to book a test in Folkstone on the day of my departure, I would be perfectly entitled to drive the bus on to the Eurostar and leave the country with it.

Depending on what happens at the retest I am seriously considering this.

In the meantime, the vehicle is parked on the street with no Tax. Where we live it isn't the only car without Tax, but we called the local neighbourhood watch police team to tell them about it and explain it would be gone by Wednesday. They keeled over laughing that we were warning them and said it was the least of their worries.

Today we are taking it to the Graffiti Kings workshop, where they are going to spray it, as long as it doesn't rain and when it goes back to the testing centre it should look a lot more presentable.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The Price of Recycling and Shopping

In terms of valuing objects, Recycling is the opposite end of the scale to consumption, but it's the same process.

I heard this great urban myth;

A couple go to the souk in Morocco on thier first day and buy a carpet, not realising they should barter over the price. They pay top dollar for the carpet and the salesman wraps it in a red bag and as they walk out of the Souk, every carpet seller tries to attract thier attention and show them more carpets.

The next day, they buy another carpet, but this time they haggle hard and the salesman wraps it in a black bag. On the way out of the Souk no one tries to call them into thier shop.

The couple never realise that the red bag marks you out as a high paying customer.

Its a nice story but it isn't true. The price of an object or service is determined not by the cost of production, but by how much people are willing to pay for it. If someone can make it and deliver it to consumers for less than they are willing to pay for it, the it gets made.

I learnt this in my first week of my engineering degree and I was quite put out by the idea that I might design a great product, but if it was too expensive to produce no one would manufacture it.

The price is set somewhere between the value of the product to the person selling it, and the value to person buying it, with each one asking themselves, "what is this worth to me?".

When a product get to a point where the answer to "What is this worth to me?" is nothing, it gets thrown out, but that broken or old object may still have a value to someone else. That's when it gets recycled.

Recylcing is ecconomically driven. Things arent recycled unless it's worth the recyclers while. Again they are asking themselves "what is this worth to me". That's why we recycle paper, metal and vegetable oil, but not building rubble, or plastics.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Gettin a visa card, now a days isn't hard.

I have a dislike of travel blogs that just talk about how they got thier visas from this embassy or that embassy, and how they were all really inefficient and the system is maddness.

Having visited Lunar house in Croydon, to get Esther's visa renewed in her Canadian passport, and having worked in the immigration service (albeit undercover for the BBC) I'm less inclined to criticise other countries' visa systems because the UK one is down thier with the worst of them, but much more expensive.

I had planned on applying for visas along the route, but in the absense of working on the bus, I've turned my attention to getting a visas with a total failure rate.

The tricky ones are Iran and I thouht to a lesser extent Pakistan.

Iran have issued an online visa applicaiton service which allows you to apply, and if you get it, they email you a refernece number which you can take to an embassy of your choice where they will then stamp the visa into your passport. Alternatively you can use a visa service which I might give better odds of being accepted. It's more expensive and there's no way of knowing if it's more reliable, but that's what I've chosen to do.

At the Pakistan embassy I got the shock of discovering that they weren't issuing visas for overland travel from Iran. They deem that the region is too dangerous to allow visitors between Bam in Iran and Quetta.

I wanted to find out if the border was open to road traffic. If the border is open, there is a chance that I could buy a plane ticket, get the visa and then a refund on the ticket, then go by road.

At the end of the Grease to Greece we were invited by the British Ambassador to the embassy for an official reception. The ambassador has now moved and is ambassador to Iran. I emailed him to ask about the border and although reading between the lines it seems like the border is open he made it very clear this border region, Balochistan, is rife with bandits/terrorists and if I was kidnapped or robbed there is very little they could do to help. He re-iterated the a FCO travel advice for the region.

He cc'd in an embassy contact in Pakistan who replied with a litany of kidnappings and terrorist strikes that had occurred over the last 12 months in that area.

At the same time, I read about a motorbiker that has just ridden along that route, and described military escorts along the route from Bam to Quetta providing protection for traffic and while I am writting I've just heard on the radio about the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

Hopefully over the next 2-3 month by the time I get there the situation will have calmed down, and if not I'll have to look at an alternative route through, Turkmensitan and into Russia. This will be terrible as it will mean missing out India and Sout East Asia. Heading into the cold climate of Russia will cause real problems with the waste vegetable oil solidifying.

I'll know if I've been accepted for the Iranian visa in the next 2-3 weeks. I'll know about the Balochistan when I get to Iran.

Crowded house

I'll just paint the sceene which is my living room this evening. I'm on the only available tiny corner of the couch, next to me is a massive projector that Dave from Big Picture has given the expedition for the outdoor cinema. It's got a couple of broken pixels (which actually I couldnt find) so it's no use to him any longer.

The coffe table is covered in low energy light bulbs and LEDs that Katie from the Good Energy Shop sent me, and there is also a smattering of part that arrived today from Adrian at Oilbits which I need to complete the oil filtration system.

Against the wall in front of me is a board from the side of a wardrobe which was on our street last week, and is going to become the kitchen countertop. And on the floor by it, is a load of shower taps and plumpbing bits for the sink.

Under the coffee table is a tool box my friend gave me which is full of old nuts and bolts and a few spanners. Next to that is pile of foam inserts I'll use to pack equipment into the bus. But best of all is the hallway, which is completely taken up by the Abaca organic mattress that Ceri sent me.

I'm sitting in darkness cos I can't actually get to the light switches.

Esther has gone to Brussels for the weekend austensibly to see friends but I think the transformation of the living room into a workshop has probably had much to do with her exodus.

Everytime something else arrives the excitement of converting this bus just builds. I can't wait to get it back and get it finished.

Media Whore

This week I've been turning my attention to the PR campaign which will get underway in a few days. Its also indirectly the cause of the delay. I need to have images to go with the press releases I send out, and that means the bus needs to be painted first, and the sponsors logos have to be put on.

The aim was to get all this done by Monday morning and launch the campaign then, but with the ongoing complexity of passing the MOT there's no only a very small chance this will happen in time.

The latest with the MOT is that it needs to eithe have a driver seatbelt, which is very dificult to fit, or it needs to have at least 8 seats so it can be classed as a motorhome. It's a ridiculous formality which has no relevence on the safety or suitability of the vehicle.

Currently there is a drivers seat, 4 seats around a table, and the composting toilet, which can be classed as seats, so we only need 2 more. Wayne is trying to get something sorted. I suggested ratchet strapping a sofa in to the back, or screwing in some garden furniture. Bizarely the rules make no distinction about how secured the seats have to be. But the MOT testing centre are being unnecassarily strict because they know the bus is going to be on telly, and "someone from VOSA might be watching".

In my experience the guys at VOSA are either at work, OR watching TV.

The advantage of a press coverage is manyfold. First of all its quite fun being a celebrity for 15 minutes, but moreover it's the most powerful way to get the message out about the 2-tonne target across and drive traffic to the site.

The trips I've done in the past which have been covered by the media have gone really well, because when people have heard about you, read about you, or seen you on the telly, they know what you are doing and are therefore instantly on your side and obstructions turn into open doors.

We were on the TV in Greece, with the rally last year, and the next day while we were helping ourselves to oil from the bins at a motorway service station, the junior manager caught us and started shouting that we were thieves and she was calling the police. Before we could make our getaway, (and believe me we did try to make a run for it), the other manager came out and instantly recognised us from the TV. Instantly we were transformed in their eyes from thieves to honourable adventurers.

On the Timbuktu trip we were stuck in Tangiers port for seven days, because the customs wanted a financial guarantee we'd exit the country with all the vehicles we'd entered with. They calculated this to be about €50,000, which we had no way of paying. But they said they would accept a letter from the British Conuslate. We went to see her and as soon as I showed her the feature the Daily Mail had run on me, she said "We can't be seen not to help you if you are in the Daily Mail". In fairness she would have helped us anyway but it goes to show the power of the press.

That's really the big payback of getting media attention. It helps achieve things that are otherwise harder or impossible, although I dare say there will be times on this journey where it might make things worse.

Over the years I've built up an enormous media list of journalists interested in following these sustainable escapades, (about 3000 address at the last count). Just before departure, I send them all a press release and then the phone goes usually mental for the rest of the day.

The challenge is writting a press release that makes the adventure sound quirky enough to spark some interest, and yet serious enough that there's a story behind it.

I've found the TV interviews illicit the biggest response from my friends texting to say I've just seen you on the telly. But as a medium for getting the enviomental message across, it's shit. They are just interested in the quirky "and finally" aspect of Man-and-Chip-Fat, and the environmental message is patronised into oblivion. Getting an interview of 1m40 is a really luxurious honour, but then most of it gets frittered away by the interviewer waffeling on about how bonkers I am.

Print can be hit and miss, they cover the enviromental side in more depth, but usually get a few facts or figures painfully wrong at some stage in the process. Being in the papers is probably the most helpful for the expedition, as you can take the cuttings with you, and there is something about cuttings that exude a sense of gravitas, sometimes more weighty than your actuall passport.

Radio is my favourite. They give you time to talk, they have a laugh, they cover all the bases, and you are reaching a lot of people in quite an intimate way. I love doing radio interviews.

But there's always the fear that you get no interest at all, and to some extent all PR campaigns rely a lot on keeping fingers crossed.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Euro Zero to Euro Hero.

The departure deadline of August the 15th which I rashly set last week in a bid to chivvy everyone along is now looking flaky again!

I got a lot done before leaving the workshop on Middle Farm, but there are still plenty of jobs that need finishing up, and some might not get done until we are underway.

Most things are fitted to the bus, but hardly anything is actually commissioned and working yet.

In a way this isn't critical to the departure, because we can set a lot of these things up along the journey.

My big concern is the tank. I've had no way to check if it has any leaks, and won't know until we fill it. I have a plastic welding kit ready to plug any leaks but at this stage the tank can't be removed or replaced so it will have to be repaired if it does have a problem.

Likewise for Oilybits plumbing system which as of this weekend is all installed, but for a few hose-clips and drain hoses. We won't know if there are any weeping joints until it's working.

The solar system is all installed but again not wired up and I have just now ordered the mother of all batteries (200Ah, and weighs almost 70kg). I'm fretting about the current demands on the cabling I have salvaged from an office refurb, and am waiting to hear back from John an electrician friend (who is also preparing a bicycle for me made out of salvaged spare parts he has lying around) about current rating on this cable I have.

The hydrogen generator is also installed, but until I have power from the PV cells, I can't hook it up, and until I have the thermostatic cut out switch I ordered from an EBayer in China 3 weeks ago, I'm worried about overloading it and setting fire to the bus.

I spoke to Euro Tunnel this week and hopefully they will take us across the channel, although obviously they are concerned about the fuel tanks and hydrogen. I joked that the composting toilet is more of a bio-hazard, misjudging how seriously they take safety and probably blew our chances using the tunnel. Its a pity because it's powered by French Nuclear electricity so has a low carbon footprint and would be a help in keeping our impact down. We'll find out this week.

Meanwhile, Wayne and Adam have been doing an amazing job of servicing the bus. In their old haulage yard they have steadily worked their way through everything - a list longer than first expected - to prepare it for MOT testing. They've fitted a particulate filter which takes the emissions from Pre-Euro rating (ie Euro 0) to Euro 4, (a brand new bus is currently Euro 5). Not bad for a 20 year old bus. With a few more modifications they could bring it up to Euro 6!

They are also servicing the gearbox oil with a synthetic oil that will increase efficiency and adding a dosing pump for a Platinum based fuel additive (1 part in 3000) that reduces emissions and improves efficiency. Seeing the work these guys do has been the most inspiring part of the project so far because it shows that you can turn old vehicles into really green vehicles.

If the work takes longer to do than planned, then so be it, and we'll leave later than planned. That's all. I have to keep reminding myself that if this happens, it's no big deal, and everyone will understand.