Tuesday, 29 September 2009
Paris is a city I know well so it’s hard to see it with objective eyes. Dinner with friends catching up and remembering old adventures, and the next day a fantastic bike ride from the north of the city to the south (which is almost all downhill so more of a bike roll than a bike ride). On the way I discovered that Paris has invested heavily in a public bicycle rental scheme. The bikes and the automated stands are all over town, and largely empty because the bikes are being used. I noticed that Parisians like to check the bikes for a few common faults learnt from experience before committing to a bike for their journey, a sure sign of how familiar with the scheme.
I also saw a couple of antipollution patrols. They check vehicles for excessive emissions, but mainly they are looking out for bikes with loud exhausts, which are very fashionable in Paris and reverberates off the 7 storey Husmanian buildings that line the boulevards.
On the motorway the bus is so slow. Any hill decimates the speed. Perhaps a blocked filter, but I don’t think so. It’s just old and gutless, and loud. None the less I am starting to warm to the bus. It’s been such a job of work to get it ready I haven’t really grown any affection for it yet, but that’s coming.
In France I saw a few wind generators, and on the border a hydro electric project run by EDF (who, lets not forget are French so why are they sponsoring Team GB in the Olympics? And aping Ecotricity’s logo in the process). My friends place didn’t have any low energy bulbs cos they said they didn’t like the light colour and there doesn’t seem to be the same awareness of green issues as there is in the UK, however a much higher percentage of their power is generated from Nuclear which is low carbon (albeit high in Uranium). Industrialised agriculture is the most visible sign of the countries carbon footprint, with endless rolling fields to stare at as I chug along at 50mph.
Germany was great and I scored my first supply of 100litres of oil from the filling station, but the country whizzed past in a brief flash of perfection, only surpassed by the perfection of Switzerland. So tidy and rectilinear, clearly marked bus lanes and sequenced traffic lights. Away from the rectitude of the main street I am now staying a couple of days at Binz, a disused factory being squatted by 40 or so artists/activists/ordinary people that have created a visually amazing community devoid of right angles.
Reclaiming seems to be all pervasive here and aside from reclaiming an abandoned building, the warehouse is full of the sort of stuff I’d collect if I had the space, junk that’s been found in the street or picked up for next to nothing because no one else wants it with a new purpose in mind. From old timber, 1970’s hifi’s, tractors, 1960 factory machinery, office furniture, 16 inch Mercedes wheel rims which are tragically too skinny for my tires (I’m still looking).
Private rooms are built into the upper spaces as perched and jutting aerial constructions that look as precarious and simultaneously inviting as children’s tree houses. Timo who invited me has been here since they first squatted the site 3 years ago, as have most of the residents. There are a number of kitchens and communities of 6-10 people around each kitchen. There are no drugs or drunks, and nothing is left locked. The ownership of the building has just passed back to the state from the local council who is being more aggressive with the squatters and has demanded 20,000CHF as a deposit. The group is due to pay it on Monday, with 700kg of 5cent coins.
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
The Afghans were waiting in a circular group surrounded by No Borders protesters that made the job of police much harder.
After an hour of wrestling and scuffles, 250 Afghans were in custody, 138 were minors. The protestors and the press were ejected from the camp while they migrants were processed and shipped out by bus to detention centres and the bulldozers started to level the camp.
The Afghans looked nervous but resigned. A few crying but most passively accepting their fate. The rules in the EU state that the first country migrants enter is the one that has to deal with them. In practice this is implemented by a fingerprint database, so migrants play a cat and mouse game with police to avoid having their prints taken until they arrive in the country they want to settle in.
They choose the UK rather than France because, they claim, once registered in France they aren't given any support, financial or accommodation, and are sent to the Jungle to live rough. In the UK they expect to be processed, housed and receive financial support.
If any of them had made it to the UK their first home would have been Dover detention centre, which is mainly populated by Chinese, but soon they get released on condition they report on a regular basis to signing centres. They are given vouchers for food, and found accommodation. It's not great but its a big step up from the Jungle shanty with one standpipe for up to 800 people.
Eric Besson (French Interior Minister) arrived later in the morning to survey the scene. A French politician in the Sarkozy mold (short ugly but impeccably dressed). I asked him if today marked a change in French asylum policy or procedures (its hugely complicated to apply and legal aid is very limited and as a result many don't get the accommodation they should be entitled to). The answer was no, no change in procedure, but this exercise would discourage future migrants, and disrupt the traffickers network.
The Pashtoon jungle is one of many camps around Calais, the next is the Somali squat. None of the others were cleared, so the network of Kurdish traffickers will continue without skipping a beat. Some in the Pashtoon camp had already paid for their passage which now they won't be able to take. A welcome bonus for traffickers.
The night before, one man told me about why he'd fled Afghanistan. He was the only one of 10 to survive an attack on his vehicle by the Taliban. His wife and family were all dead. Navid, 15 year old and street smart told me about how he'd been abducted into a Kornanic school and indoctrinated with Jihad before escaping and the punishment beating his parents suffered as a result. Another boy shows me cigarette burns he received at the hands of I****** police. Negib, only 12 years old, left his parents and travelled alone with his 11 year old brother from Kundu province.
It's unlikely that if any rumours of a bulldozed camp in Calais make it into rural Afghanistan they will act as a deterrent compared with what people face locally.
The local NGO's fully expect that within a week, when the issue has waned from the public eye, the migrants will again be released by the authorities from the detention centre to fend for themselves. But perhaps the unique circumstances under which they have been detained will mean they receive the processing they are entitled to.
For all the political bluster, processing and deciding asylum cases is a matter of subjective judgement, and heavily influenced by political imperatives.
At the camp the Afghans were separated into adults and minors. One claimed he was 17 and the cop dealing with him dismissed this with a wave of his hand, saying "He looks 18 to me", and he was put in a queue with other adults. Hopefully the details of their individual asylum cases will be heard with less bias.
When Esther and I set off on our trip to Cape Town one of the first things we saw in Morocco where the forests where Moroccan Military Police where clearing migrant camps around the border with Ceuta. We had to go looking for them, and in the end all we saw were lines of Moroccan military vehicles with soldiers prone to embark into the wooded forest. Apart from the occasional gun shot ringing out the mass of forest absorbed the tension and led you to question weather anything was happening at all.
Here in Calais the forest is thinner, and lines of journalists direct you to the shanty town of tarps and smouldering wood fires.
I found the Pashtun Jungle. It’s the largest with around 400 men camping out. I ask them about their journey. It’s my first encounter with Afghanis. Their eyes reveal their determination and single minded obsession. Trucks to Tehran, clinging on under lorries to cross into Europe, 3 days in a container with no food, trekking through hills eating just fruits from trees. This final leg 13 miles across the channel the last stage in a journey that has taken some 3 months, some a year.
Two boys tell me they are aged 11 and 12. They’ve travelled together and are now forming part of this community. They look young but their eyes are quick and smart. I ask one man if knowing how hard the journey is, he would try it a second time. He says no, but others are adamant that being sent back is as good as suicide.
An older man tells me in Afghanistan he was imprisoned by the Taliban in a cave for 3 months for not helping them. I ask him about the route to India and he comes alive, reciting the kilometres to between cities on the route. He was a taxi driver and for a moment as he talks he’s back in that world where he had a job and probably a family. The look soon fades as he is re-consumed by his current surroundings, the shanty around the edge of a smoky industrial estate.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Hrazeem asks greets me with a song and a dance. I suspect he is mocking me and the other journalists that are sheepishly looking around, anxious about upsetting sensibilities with cameras. He tells me he speaks English, because that’s the only English phrase he knows. Actually he isn’t taking the piss, he’s just bored, and restless and passing the time. We chat by drawing pictures in the sand
Rumours are abound that the police will storm the camp tonight, tomorrow or by the end of the week, rounding up the Afghans and deporting them. It’s been announced by the local politicians. Jerome for the organisation Salam (an NGO that helps by providing meals) tells me they do it every so often and then the camps build up again.
There are other camps in the area but this is the largest and the one with the media spotlight so potentially the biggest flashpoint.
I recognise the smell and the desperation of the impeded journey. I’ve seen it before in Morocco when we found a safe house of Nigerians in Fez, before that in two Sierra Leoneans I met in Nouadibou. There’s a delirium that drives the pressure of the impeded journey. Nothing else matters, not safety or laws. To some degree I even lived that on my first journey when I risked my life in a minefield to get back from Mauritania, such was the momentum of the battle with the authorities.
Why press on to England instead of seeking asylum in France. “England Good!” the common chorus, France by contrast is a shithole shanty town next to a plastics factory. In a way that makes me proud to be British.
Having worked undercover in the immigration removal and custody service for a BBC documentary I think the reason Britain is so keen to downplay election corruption in Afghanistan is to certify it as a safe country to which nationals can be removed. Thankfully the removals process is rife with ineptitude, and unless your police are jackbooted (as they are here in France) it’s quite hard to do with full regard to civil rights.
How is this related to carbon footprints. Well it comes down to global social justice. Rich nations exploit the resources of poorer ones to maintain the quality of life of its benign and naive citizens, who then turn to migrants and say, No, you can’t share in our wealth. This is happening with the environment too, rich nations exploit it and pollute it disproportionately to poorer nations and then point the finger at the Chinese and Indians.
Open borders then? I’m not sure it’s that simple, but why not. I’ve never understood why there is a moral difference between economic and political migration. The complete lack of opportunities created by a corrupt government is a form off oppressions on it’s people. That’s why people risk their lives to travel to new countries.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
With the chocolate powered lorry journey we loaded the fuel up in 2 IBC's which are made of similar plastic (but much thinner) and set off without a worry, however that vehicle was bigger and more stable but with this bus there is more movement shaking the tank as it goes over bumps. It's generating more G-force which the fuel then takes and uses to force itself against the side of the tank.
None the less, the tank is more squat than an IBC, and it's shape has ridges and curves which should dissipate the surge wave inside so it should be more resilient. However it's a more complicated shape inviting stress cracks along its edges, and the material is less flexible than an IBC and isn't supported by an aluminium cage. Plus the double skin means it could wear against itself.
Matt from Philton did an amazing job, and really got into the technical challenge of producing the liner as well as the practical hands on work of rewelding the outer tank. I had to cut a big hatch in the old tank to fit the liner in, then get half my body in to unfold it so it could be inflated with the mother of all air compressors. There are no guarantees on how long this will last but they've given me a spare fold up tank in case I need to to drain the main one in an emergency.
So now I am looking for an open cell, "reticulated polyurethane" foam that I can put in the tank to act as a sponge holding the fuel in position. Sounds simple, but it never is. Biodiesel and vegetable oil are hugely corrosive (more so than fossil diesel) so not all types of foam are suitable. (some get eaten away, some swell, some dissolve). Most of the foam salesmen I've spoken to today don't really know if their foams are biodeisel resistant, because no one has ever asked them before, and when I tell them I just want their offcuts they aren't that interested in researching it either.
I'm getting close to the point of giving up, and using some PVC hosing and floating foam to try to lessen the slosh effect, but it won't really be very effective. I think however I can persuade myself it's OK by remembering we never had any trouble with the chocolate powered lorry fuel tanks.
At this stage I still haven't even tested the new tank set up, because I'm wating for a filler cap which should arrive tomorrow.
Do I wait to fit the foam until after I've filled the tank (which means driving to wherever I can find some foam with a full tank and no foam risking it splits again)? or do I fit the foam first (and run the risk of discovering that the tank is still leaking and then I can't get my foam back out) or do I get a grip and think this is all overkill cos I've now fixed it twice over? Mostly it depends on finding some suitable foam, if such a thing exists.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
At Uptown Oil we filled the tank and the weld held nicely, with a completely dry area all around.
By the time I'd driven home the seal had failed and fuel was dripping out of the back of the plastic tank.
Quick as a flash I drove back to Uptown Oils and drained the tank. All this at 10pm the night before I was due to leave.
So I'm now still at home. The first part of the expedition is turning into a stay-cation, while I work out a solution.
The tank is thoroughly embedded in the bus and to remove it I'd have to cut it into pieces, and replacing it with another one is not an option. I'd have to take a window out, and event then I'm not sure I could fit it past the toilet cubicle.
I've welded it again, and then reinforced it with specialist body filler. The problem is the tank is made from Polyethylene, to which no adhesive will stick. I'm not convince my weld is good enough and that the filler will stick. While it might be OK for a while, I won't ever be confident in it and I don't want it to break on route where I don't have instant access to a reserve tank I can drain my fuel into.
So I can either replace it with a steel tank which will have to be fabricated in place, which is quite tricky and annoyingly means abandoning the mantra of using waste to build the bus. A steel tank would also be much heavier.
Alternatively I may be able to find a tank liner like a balloon that fits inside the tank to hold the fluid. There are a few companies that make bespoke liners which might be a solution.
As soon as it's done I'm off.
Friday, 11 September 2009
I've still not really taken in that this is it for about a year!
A few things left to tidy up. (Like my whole life), but looking back over the last 3 months I've created an amazing vehicle, thanks to the help of all the friends and sponsors that have got involved.
There are so many things in it that I forget some of the earlier stuff I did in the build, like the Non Itch insulation made with recycled plastic bottles. Remember that.
Today I have to finish welding the seeping hole in the tank. (it gets smaller with every attempt, and soon I will figure out exactly how to weld plastic and actually seal it fully). TVT are coming to fit the platignum dosing pump. These guys are even more last minute than me, which is a testament to how in demand they are.
I also want to finish plumbing the waste water so the wee from the composting toilet is diluted with it, and at last I can have a grand opening (of my bowels) at the grand opening of the bus.
I'm waiting for the Womble costume to be delivered this morning along with a photographer and a TV crew that are coming at some point today.
I'm surprisingly unstressed. Resigned to the fact that the bus will be an on going evolution along the journey, it's really not important that every detail is finished at the start.
Time to get to it.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
While I have been worrying about the impending risks of Balochistan after a conversation with journalist that interviewed me yesterday, I almost croaked it on the M3 by Fleet services today.
I'd just been considering the different driving techniques I use in my car (veg powered too) and the van. A busy work day, tidying up a few loose ends meant I had to clock up about 150 miles, done a top motorway speed, interspersed with over-postponed rushed stops at motorway services.
Motorway service stations are really the lowest pit of humanity. They make me crave a good scrub. Soleless, faceless, inhuman.
As I burst back out, rushing to the car with a sandwich to eat at the wheel I see a guy that was leisurely taking his time over a drink and a smoke, and in no rush. Sunday: that will be me, unrushed and happy to sit at 45mph with long thoughtful breaks. But today I have traffic to get frustrated about, a deadline and more miles to cover.
On the way back from Bournemouth the traffic suddenly slowed, and then slowed dramatically, then the 4x4 in front of me swerved to reveal a gentle coming together between 2 cars ahead on my right, I braked harder, fumbled for the hazard light switch, narrowly avoid contact with the 4x4 in front by braking as hard as I can and hear a clapping bang as something crashes sideways into the hard shoulder on the left. Like the eye of the storm I slinked through unscathed with crashes to the left and the right, the rear view filled with cloud, debris, screeches. Only luck, not judgement to thank.
There's a type of braking cos the car ahead is slowing, then there's a type of braking because the traffic is all about to slow right down, and you pace that with an eye in the rear mirror to give the car behind a chance, but then there's the type of braking when what's behind is not a priority because what is in front is coming so fast. Only right at the end do you think "Ah, this is going to be one of those crashes". It's all quite gentlemanly up to that point when you realise impact is unavoidable. I noticed my concious change at each step.
I couldn't have done anything differently, I was constrained by the speed of my reactions and the fixed length of my car, The closeness between me and the 4x4 attest to that, but a static wave of braking went from the collision ahead of me, through my velocity, and thankfully chose to break a few cars back.
Never mind the dangers of terrorism, global warming, killer disease. The first risk on this and any vehicle based expedition is much more mundane, Road Traffic Accidents.
Later the radio reports a 6 car pile up, no mentions of fatalities, and in another incident on the same road, a "coming together between a car and a motorbike" On a motorway? I wouldn't like to be that bikers family tonight.
I've got to the stage now where only the bare essentials are now a priority, and that is currently fixing the hole in the tank.
If I can get that done quickly, then I can worry about the bike rack and the plumbing. I'm worried that my water pump doesn't cut out when i close the taps. When I connected it up last time it kept going til it blew the solar collector apart. That's now back together, but I haven't dared reinsert the pump fuse. I have another cut out valve switch I can canabalise from something else but that will take a bit of time. A job for later.
I also need to connect up the waste water pipe. I went for a drive with it hanging down half done under the bus (I got excited showing off to a journalist) and it got caught in the wheels and got wrenched out.
I've tried plastic welding on the tank, but it hasn't stopped the leak, now I'm going to try car filler which apparently is the only thing that really sticks to Polyethylene. The hole is in a really awkward place, and I have to stick my head in between the bed and the tank. If the flimsy bit of wood holding the bed up slips out, my skull will be the only thing (not) propping it up.
It's 4 am. Time to sleep, I can fret more in the morning.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Andy Pag (34 London), the eco-adventurer who drove a chocolate powered lorry to Timbuktu using waste cocoa butter and organised the Grease to Greece Rally where teams had to scavenge chip-fat to power their vehicles across Europe, is now setting off to drive around the world on an eco-expedition that can best be described as … Rubbish!
Pag has recycled a scrap yard school bus and turned it into a state of the art eco-home using a mix of reclaimed trash and cutting edge green technology. Not only is the 20 year old “Biotruck” made from rubbish, but it’s been modified so it can run on rubbish too, specifically used cooking oil thrown away by restaurants and caterers.
“By 2050 the experts say we’ll each have to be emitting less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per year to avoid the worst effects of manmade climate change.” says Pag, “In the UK we currently emit around 10-13tonnes. I’m curious to see what people in other countries are doing about their footprint, and to see if it’s possible to travel around the world emitting less than 2 tonnes myself, by using energy-from-waste and other technology.”
The first fill up comes from Uptown Oils in London who produce fuel from locally collected used cooing oil. When full, the Biotruck has a range of around 5000miles (8000km), but Pag intends to keep the tank topped up during the 12 month journey from chip shops and burger bars along the route through Europe, the Middle East, South East Asia and the Americas, with the help of an on board Zuwa collection pump, Greenfuel tanks and an Oilybits filtering system.
The expedition’s CO2 is being monitored by consultants Terra-Ambiente, and onboard the Biotruck, every effort has been made to avoid fossil fuels. Cooking is on a woodgas stove, washing is with water heated bythe sun, lighting is by ultra low energy LED bulbs from the Good Energy Shop, sleeping is on an Abaca organic mattress, and the call of nature is answered on a Separett waterless composting toilet.
To get the most of every drop of fuel, Pag has fitted EcoVolt solar panels on the roof which power a Magdrive hydrogen generator, supplementing fuel with Hydrogen gas so that on sunny days the Biotruck will cover more miles per gallon. Total Vehicle Technology have serviced the engine and installed a Clean Diesel Technology Particulate Filter which reduces the exhaust emissions to that of a vehicle 1/10th its age.
“I’ve no idea how easy it will be to find used cooking oil in places like Iran, India or Brazil but it’s going to be fun finding out. Driving around the world is a massive challenge, and trying to do it using sustainable fuels, with a tight carbon budget makes this the toughest expedition I’ve ever attempted.” confessed Pag a former engineer and journalist who has been organising overland expeditions for 14 years.
Before being waved off from the windmill on Wimbledon Common at 11am on the 12th of September by well wishers and Wombles, Pag will offer guided tours of the bus to the public. Regular updates will be posted on the expedition website, www.biotruckexpedition.org where followers can track the expedition’s progress.
Press call and Interviews
Journalists are invited to a press call between at 8am and 10am on the 12th of September by the Windmill on Wimbledon Common (Windmill road, SW19 5NR), to see the bus and meet Andy Pag as they depart on the round the world expedition.
Please confirm attendance with Andy Pag; T: 0797 494 2796, E: email@example.com to ensure access to the bus.
Pictures for print and for web of Pag and the Biotruck are available at http://twitpic.com/photos/biotruck
· The Stern Review predicts that achieving a global CO2 footprint of 2 tonnes per person per year will stave off the worst effects of manmade climate change.
· Energy-From-Waste presents a huge opportunity for reducing greenhouse gas emission. Waste cooking oil is usually destined to rot in landfill sites, producing methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
· Running a private vehicle on waste vegetable oil or “home-brew” biodiesel has been legal and tax free in the UK since June 2007.
· Diesel Particulate Filters trap exhaust gases including soot known as “Black Carbon” which as well as causing local pollution is thought to produce a significant greenhouse effect.
Sponsors and Expert contacts;
· Clean Diesel Technology and Total Vehicle Technology, installers and suppliers of Low Emission exhaust gas systems. (Dan Skelton 01883 629090, Wayne Bint 079515 86935)
· EcoVolt, certified installers of PV solar panels (Charley Wander 07831 705 000)
· Good Energy, suppliers of 100% sustainably produced electricity. (Sophy Fearnley-Whittingstall 07979 368238)
· Oilybits, Zuwa and Greenfuels, suppliers and designers of filtration and Biofuel production equipment (Adrian Henson 07748 655 589, Ulli Holzer 0049 170 8061686, and James Hygate 07973 358 808)
· Terra-Ambiente, sustainability consultants.(Daniela Meilmann 07779 235 538)
· Uptown Oils, Producers of Fuel from Waste Oil (Nigel Jewison 07973 286 726)
Friday, 4 September 2009
In the end we used the sledgehammer of changing everything for new parts on the back axle, drums, shoes, cylinders and pipework.
No one sells second hand brake parts, because of the liability involved if they are faulty, so new was the only and costliest option.
As Adam fitted the new brake shoes he noticed that the old ones had holes that put the return spring in more tension, which would have lead to their application being uneven.
The lesson in this is not "Don't scrimp and don't try shortcuts" because that rule can only be applied with hindsight. The lesson is more specific "Check the springs before you fork out for a new brake system."
The bus is now outside my home, MOT'd, taxed and ready to go.
Jobs left to do include;
Plumbing in the sink, the shower tray and the taps,
Building a solar collector on the roof,
Getting a lock for the door and fuel cap
Testing the fuel tank for leaks,
Filling it up and
Renting a Womble costume for the big departure which will be on the 12th.*
(*Subject to the fuel tank not bursting when I fill it up)
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
Having been (albeit briefly) a manufacturing engineer and studied product design, I'd say this transformation, in reverse, is at the heart of creating a desirable product. Products are, in a purely physical sense, materials that have been manipulated into a form that allows them to perform a function.
Being aware of this manipulation process, the mechanic doesn't see his car as a car-object, but as a collection of parts, some of which need replacing or tuning, where as a motorist would see the car as a car-object which is broken, like a black box which either does or doesn't "work".
To create a desirable product, a marketeer has to remove the impression that their product is just a collection of assembled parts, and is in fact an object in and of itself. For some reason this creates desirability. I haven't quite figured out why we don't value the assembled nature of products over the finished form, but I don't think it's innate in human nature, I think it's a learnt response from society.
Regardless, this urge is the driver of an over consumptive society. My neighbour a few doors up has a lovely car. He's worked hard for it and deserves it. I don't begrudge him it, but what I don't understand is, that having worked hard, why would he want to spend that effort/money on a car which is after all only glass, metal, rubber and plastic folded into a shape which looks lovely. Why not cut a picture of the nice car out of a magazine, stick it on the fridge, buy a second hand car for a fraction of the cost, and take £100/week that the car probably costs in repayments worth of extra holiday to spend with his lovely family.
I am happy to admit that I am obsessive about the environmental impact of consumption, but that's down to having worked in manufacturing, which takes the shine off the desirable product-object concept, but secondly make me see the energy costs associated with any product, the heating to form plastic and metal, the transportation energy for supplies and distribution, the energy to extract and process the raw materials and the wastefulness that is inevitable with mass production and big industry.
It's also down to having spent so much time in Africa and seeing how life can function without all this crap that fills my home in London. One of the things I am looking forward to on this expedition is downsizing the space I have for stuff. Like an enforced vow of non consumption. I can't put up with broken suspension.