One of the most intriguing participants in the Bridgestone World Solar Challenge is a 21 year old from Orbost who spent his gap year riding around Australia on a solar-powered trike.
Sam Mitchell is a member of Sunswift, the solar racing team of the University of New South Wales.
The team is now in the Northern Territory, where cars have commenced a 3,000km race down the Stuart Highway to Adelaide under solar power.
Around 30 UNSW students are contributing to the design, construction, testing and racing of the car known as eVe 2.0, with high hopes they’ll beat off challengers from around the world. The seven day race began today in Darwin.
Sam brings a lot of knowledge to the team, gained from tinkering with solar energy and trike building in his teenage years.
“Just like my trikes, solar panels charge the battery to run a motor. But the car is so much more advanced,” Sam said.
“Rather than a crappy steel frame it has a carbon fibre shell, a really nice battery, really nice panels and it’s aerodynamic so it can move a hell of a lot faster.”
Sam has always been a bit of a scavenger. Three trikes preceded the one that took him around Australia in 2013, each one better than the one before. Their frames, panels, batteries and other components were gathered from scrap and other sources.
Propelled by renewable energy, Sam would take a trike up into forested areas north of Orbost for a day or two. He enjoyed the company of similar thinkers in places like Goongerah, where some people live off the grid in a totally sustainable way.
“It’s a moral thing, also an independence thing,” he said.
Sam spoke of the morality of drawing energy from sources that don’t ravage the planet.
“It’s the moral thing of trashing something that we don’t have the right to trash. What gives us the right to trash something that isn’t going to be ours forever?
“I think it’s morally dodgy to go and trash something that isn’t ours to trash – digging up fossil fuels, bulldozing old growth forests that won’t grow back in an instant, digging stuff out of the ground quicker than we can put it back.”
Like his friends at Goongerah, Sam has sought to live independently and sustainably, even while at university in Sydney.
“I’m not independent if I’m running a generator all the time or relying on this stuff that can’t be continuously produced. I can’t produce it myself. It’s a small finite resource. What gives me the right to use energy that’s the product of polluting and damaging practices?”
Sam spent ten months on his own at 18 years of age, living independently and relying on no one, while covering great distances under the power of renewable energy. How many of us know someone of that age, or any age for that matter, who could successfully complete such a venture?
Sam has made a valuable contribution to eVe 2.0, thanks to his self-learning about such things.
“I wouldn’t have known what to do on many of the components but I have done quite a bit of work building a new battery pack and things like that.”
He is coming to the end of the second of four years studying renewable energy engineering at UNSW.
“A lot of the system design that I built in the bike has been really useful in a couple of subjects in uni, now that I’ve got to the point where we’re doing some relevant things. Just the system designs and systems thinking, and thinking about battery sizes and so on.
“I’m starting to learn things now that are building on what I learnt for myself previously. I’ve also learnt a lot working with some of the smart people on this car.”
Sam doesn’t know where all this new knowledge will take him in years to come. One suspects though that he has a great contribution to make, to global efforts for a more sustainable future.