In the summer of 2015, Edwin and Liesbeth were making dinner. When they tossed away another packaging, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Why is it now ‘worthless’? They emptied their trashcan and were confronted with their personal habits and widespread plastic consumption and waste. One thing lead to another and the Clean2Antartica dream was born: using that recycled plastic to 3D print a solar-powered vehicle that could take them to the cleanest place on Earth: the South Pole.
Antarctica contains 90% of the world’s ice and belongs to no one. It is zero waste by law, making it the perfect destination for a zero waste adventure. “We can learn from Antarctica and make sure it stays that way. We also want to raise awareness for the Antarctic Treaty. If not extended in 2048, the continent will be opened for commercial exploitation,” they explain.
3D printed building blocks
The next step was doing something with all the wasted plastic. So they shredded the pieces and melted it into filament to use in thermoplastic extrusion 3D printers. Then they applied this concept to an industrial scale, using recycled pellets from a waste plant. With forty 3D printers, they printed 4,000 HexCores. These building blocks inspired by the honeycomb are designed to be light and strong.
Plastic is often designed to be thrown away. So they turned plastic waste into the foundation of their project. They puzzled the HexCores into the body of the Antarctic vehicle, the Solar Voyager. Contrary to common belief, plastic – especially second-use plastic – is very hard to recycle. “We want people to change their perspective on plastic from waste to resource – the duo explains. “That means reusing the ‘good’ plastic and avoiding the ‘bad’. To borrow from Neil Armstrong: It’s a small step for you and me, but a giant leap for mankind.”
Building together with partners and experimenting is the model for a circular economy. “The Solar Voyager proves that we don’t have to invent new technology but rediscover what we can do with it. We have all the technology we need for a sustainable world, now it’s time to apply it,” they explain.
The Clean2Antartica mission
From Antarctica’s base camp, Liesbeth and Edwin will drive to the South Pole and back. A journey of 2400 km through an icy desert where the sun never sets. In -30°C, man and machine will be tested on the driest, coldest, and highest continent on the planet. This is about the power of embracing discomfort. Whether it’s about an expedition or taking the first steps to reduce your plastic.
Driving on Antarctica needs creative thinking. How does the vehicle float on top of the snow or how can it provide drinking water? How can the expedition communicate with the Mission Control Center? Ten solar panels provide constant power for the engine, and vacuum pipes can melt the ice. Its light weight is spread across special wheels to make driving more efficient. The Solar Voyager started as a plastic puzzle and is now a high-tech vehicle built for Antarctica.