What do you do when you want to travel the country you love, without contributing to climate change through your vehicle’s emissions? Turn to plant-power, of course! Our Editor-in-Chief Charli caught up with long-time friend of the Collective, Roland Davies aka ‘Lucky Roland’, to get the low-down on the most climate-friendly exploration of Australia possible.
When Roland Davies sold his business last year, he planned to do what a lot of Aussies do with a bit of time off – get a truck, fill it with surfboards and go on a road trip. Roland’s road trip was always going to be a little bit different, with plans to organise and take part in beach-cleans along the way; but what was to eventuate took the idea of ‘eco-travel’ to entirely the next step.
While on a surf-break in Stockton NSW, Roland was stunned by the sheer amount of rubbish washed up on what should have been a pristine shoreline. Swapping the surf for the beach and a board for a hessian sack, Roland single-handedly collected one tonne of rubbish from just one 30km stretch of sand.
Standing knee-deep in rubbish, staring at the ocean, Roland knew this was just the tip of the iceberg. A self-proclaimed ‘eco try-hard’, he realised that to complete his dream of circumnavigating Australia, he’d have to find another way of travelling that didn’t involve a diesel-guzzling 4×4.
So, he bought an actual fire truck and converted it to run on waste cooking oil. Of course. That’s what we’d all do, right?!
Introducing The Plant-Powered Fire Truck
Roland’s background in hospitality meant he knew how much waste cooking oil is thrown away by hospitality venues around the country every single day. He’d heard that it was possible to run cars and other vehicles on vegetable oil, and so the journey to convert a suitable vehicle began.
“What I needed was a direct injection truck with enough space to house an onboard mobile oil refinery sequence, enough room for a fortnight’s supply of water, food, coffee and surfboards, and enough space to take the rubbish out with me that I collected from national parks along the way,” commented Roland.
“Essentially, what I wanted to build was the most obnoxious, environmentally-offensive looking machine that you could ever imagine, that was used exclusively in the name of conservation, and greener than any other car on the road,” he added.
Living up to his moniker of “Lucky Roland”, Roland managed to find and procure an ex-Rural Fire Service truck with only 25,000 km on the clock.
How do you run a fire truck on waste vegetable oil?
As Roland explains in the YouTube Series about his journey, to convert a vehicle to run on waste vegetable oil you need a lot of parts, a lot of time and a lot of expertise.
“You have to install a parallel fuel system to work alongside the existing fuel system,” Roland explains. “This is because the veggie oil has to be hot to be thin, and it has to be thin to flow or combust like regular diesel. So, you keep the diesel tank to start up the cold engine on diesel, but then when everything gets hot, you switch it to vegetable oil.”
Now, before you rush off to your local chippie and ask for last night’s waste to fill up your car, be wary that the path to plant-powered is often pathed with potholes.
Roland enlisted help from a 4-wheel drive garage, which proceeded to install the wrong plumbing and create a new veggie oil tank with a heap of design flaws.
Luckily (again!), the man who sold Roland the numerous parts to convert the truck lived in the first stop on the road trip – Coffs Harbour.
Dirk (the ‘grease-monkey angel’ sent from heaven, according to Roland) was able to fix all the glitches and get the truck working.
“This has been three years in the making of conceiving, planning and now executing the most climate-friendly exploration of Australia possible. This truck is literally running on rubbish!”
And the best part? The exhaust smells like a donut shop! We’re sold.
What’s in the truck?
The plant-powered fire truck has everything you’d expect from a 4-wheel drive touring rig, plus a little bit of luxury. Inside, there is a fridge that runs off the auxiliary battery, a whole wall dedicated to coffee (which Roland will exchange a cup of in return for 30 pieces of trash, if you catch him along the way on a beach clean), a rooftop tent to get a good night’s kip, an awning and mozzie net. Sounds pretty comfy for a six-month adventure!
But for Roland, this trip has a much higher purpose.
“All I want from this project is to help people fall in love with nature like I have, because it’s my resolute belief that we fight hardest for what we love.”
Probably the most striking part of the whole thing when you listen to Roland talk about the plant-powered fire truck, is his enthusiasm and passion, which is clear and contagious. He is realising his dream to travel the country he loves, but because of his hard work and commitment, he’s getting to do it in a vehicle he has completely converted to run on the waste oil from cafes and restaurants that donate to him along the way. He’s living the planet-friendly dream.
Maybe he really is Lucky Roland after all.
Earth Collective will be following Roland Davies and Charlie Thompson as they travel through Australia in a plant-powered fire truck for the next six months. You can follow the journey here. If you are a restaurant or cafe who would like to donate waste vegetable oil to keep them moving, or if you are interested in sponsoring the trip in any other way, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.