Driving around the world using waste cooking oil

Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:32 IST
Last Updated : 19 November 2018, 09:32 IST

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“Andy Pag gives the impression he is an eco-adventurer, but beneath that thin veneer lies an engine-loving petrol-head curious about viable alternative fuels. Obsessed with how things work and break. Andy is powered by avoiding soap and water.”

This is how Bio Truck Expedition Website describes Pag from the United Kingdom. Pag, whose full name is Andrea Pagnacco, left London in September 2009 expecting his trip to take around a year. His 20-year-old school bus was modified so that it runs on waste cooking oil, filtering and processing the oil in a special unit.

His aim is to reduce the risk of a 5°C rise in global temperatures from 50 per cent to three per cent, the G20 nations have agreed to reduce CO2 emissions to two tonnes per person per year by 2050. But what can you do with two tonnes of carbon? The Biotruck team are attempting to drive around the world emitting less than two tonnes of CO2, and discovering how other people are cutting their footprint.

Two years ago, he drove a chocolate-powered truck to Timbuktu, in the African desert. The truck was adapted so that it could run on cocoa butter extracted from thousands of misshapen chocolates.

An award-winning investigative journalist and a TV producer, Pagis on a mission to create awareness on climate change. But this engineering graduate in mechanical and electrical refuses to take the typical tag of a ‘environmentalist’. “I did not want to be a hypocrite. I wanted to do what was right”, Pag, who is on a global tour in his biotruck that runs on a clean fuel, confesses.

Unlike developed nations, India’s issue with climate change is an acute dearth of knowledge about the harms of CO2, Pag points out. “But the good thing is this can be fixed by spreading the awareness and not repeating the mistakes we have made in
Europe and America,” emphasises Pag.

Pag refuses to compare himself with the stereotype activist who goes around ‘spreading awareness’. In his own words: “I am just attempting to drive around the world emitting less than two tonnes of CO2, and discovering how other people are cutting their footprints.” According to the 34-year-old environment freak, he has been hooked on to climate change through his work in the Arctic Survey project and realised ‘the problem is a lot bigger than it appears to be’. “I became conscious of my own hypocrisy. I saw what I was doing was contrary to what I knew was right,” he says. Pag set out on his journey from his home in the UK in September last year, and made his way through Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and came to India in December through the Wagah border, travelling more than 22,000 km. “The whole idea of my 'Biotruck Expedition' is to see if this could be a way to reduce carbon footprint.”  He travelled through Pushkar, Mumbai and Kathmandu before reaching Kolkata.

His stay in India was a mixed bag. He was arrested at Ajmer in Rajasthan for carrying a satellite phone, but later was let off on bail and everything cleared up eventually. This threw his tour programme haywire. It meant extra stay in India. “Travelling in India is not easy,” he said with a smile, “But it is very rewarding.”

As a student of mechanical and electrical engineering, Pag hosted a presentation for the students and talked to them about the ‘real deal of green technology’ and stressed how difficult the challenge ahead was. “Students can do so much more, you know. They are the future. When they join companies, they can use this knowledge and push for those very hard decisions that are very important. This is like planting a seed,” he said. “Today, there is no doubt that there is a man-made climate change. But the problem is that there is no consensus among scientists on the extent of harm it can cause. This is what anti-environmentalists, so to speak, are using to their advantage,’ he saya. 

India, he feels, has a high stake in solving the climate change problem since it's an agricultural economy and a lot depends on the climate here. “And it suffers from poverty.

As we run out of fossil fuel and the prices go up, there’s going to be rationing. And so the urgency to come up with an affordable source of sustainable energy is very high here.”
According to Pag, one has to think local when thinking about alternative energy. For example, India has great potential for solar energy but the same cannot be said for a lot of other nations. In India, his favourite place was Amritsar, but he has travelled quite a lot in the last few months here. Pag and his ‘truck’ have been to Delhi, Agra, Jaipur Rajasthan, Pune, Goa, Patna and even Nepal for two months. After his short visit to Kolkata, he headed for Indonesia; and then Australia, South America and the US are on his ‘romancing’ route.

Pag drives a 21-year-old Mercedes RV (recreational vehicle) of sorts, with only 850 pounds( Rs 60,000) which he has remodelled as per his desire. A plethora of modifications and conformations, including six solar panels on the roof, a two tank engine and more, is not exactly very recreational. What sets the truck apart is the unique engine, which has been designed to run on vegetable oil and has been installed with a filtering system to clean the used oil that can be picked en route and used as fuel. “I can also convert the used oil to bio-diesel to fuel my start-up tank using an onboard reactor.”
The environmental campaigner has travelled more that 22,000 km in his vehicle. The vehicle aims to produce the least carbon footprint while going around the world in 365 days. He set out from London in September last year. Travelling through France, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Greece, Iran and Pakistan before reaching India, Pag has realised the difficulty in accessing bio oil. “As the route is a little flexible, I can’t be sure where I will get fuel next. After all, if you want to drive around the world using only bio-fuel, it can be very, very difficult.” But he admits without hesitation that availability of bio-fuel is quite easy in India and other Asian countries.

In Europe, his fuel was supplied by restaurants, who gladly gave him the used vegetable oil they would have otherwise had to pay to get disposed of. In Asia, bio-fuel companies like Emami, Royal Energy and Gomti Biotech came forward to sponsor him.

Travelling by road, even without the idea of adhering to the carbon constraint, is strenuous, Pag has realised it the hardest way. He holds his sanity together through his photography, zest for life and his sense of humour. Pag, whose expedition is documented extensively on his website www.biotruckexpedition.com and also on Twitter at www.twitter.com/biotruck, claimed one of reasons to come to the institute here was to get his dream solar-powered-disco, inside his truck, up and running.

Published 21 August 2010, 16:30 IST

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