By tuk tuk up the eastern coast of Australia, powered by sunshine

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
27 November 2018

A humble, solar powered electric tuk tuk has left Melbourne for a 3,000+ km journey up the east coast of Australia. 

Developed by a team from social impact education provider Unbound, RMIT and Arup, ‘SolarTuk’ will travel through the major cities of Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane as well as regional centres including Jindabyne, Port Macquarie and Bundaberg before finishing at the Great Barrier Reef. 

The SolarTuk with solar panels folded upward The SolarTuk with solar panels folded upward

Following this Australian journey, SolarTuk will then embark on an international adventure – circumnavigating the globe powered by sunshine.   

The aim? To promote a sustainable future by raising awareness for electric vehicles, renewable energy and community led sustainability. Along the way the team will meet with schools, politicians, innovators, media and the wider community to share how transport can be more sustainable. 

We hope to bring attention to the immediate need for sustainable transport and widespread sustainable development in general across Australia. We’re showcasing the great progress being made by the communities, companies and councils taking action now – the leaders in the transition. ”

Jack Clarke head shot Jack Clarke Former Engineer

The team hopes that seeing SolarTuk in action – at a top speed of 50 km/h with a range of 300km per full battery charge – will help convince the public of the range and capacity of electric vehicles.

If a tuk tuk can make the long journey from Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef, including a trip up and over Mt Kosciusko, then drivers travelling shorter distances in more advanced electric vehicles have nothing to worry about!

The world’s most unlikely expedition vehicle

The SolarTuk expedition is the brainchild of Unbound CEO Julian O’Shea, who along with Arup sustainable design engineer Jack Clarke, worked with RMIT academics and final year engineering students to build, test and register the vehicle. 

Reengineering a tuk tuk for such a long trip, using solar power, was a challenging 12 month process. The vehicle was sourced from the Tuk Tuk Factory, a company which manufactures EU compliant vehicles in its factory in Bangkok, Thailand. To ensure SolarTuk would go the distance, the battery had to be upgraded and a whole new photovoltaic solar system designed and installed.

SolarTuk has five 160W solar panels – a lightweight, flexible panel type commonly used for caravans – installed on its roof, sides and rear. The panels sit flat while the tuk tuk is on the road and when stationary, the side and rear panels fold upwards for maximum sun exposure.

The team also added 32kWh of Tesla S batteries sourced from a decommissioned vehicle. In order to ensure the journey is entirely powered by renewable energy, the team plans where possible to source any necessary charge top ups from community buildings using solar including Indigenous communities, schools and organisations, or people with solar-powered properties. 

Any additional electricity sourced from the regular power grid will be offset by the trip’s power partner Diamond Energy, a solar friendly electricity retailer with customers and assets all over the country. Diamond will sacrifice renewable energy credits from solar wind and biogas production to offset the Expedition’s additional electricity needs.

And finally, SolarTuk is registered to be legally driven on all Australian roads, with the driver only needing a regular driver’s license. 

Being part of this project is an opportunity to engage with communities, schools, businesses and governments across the country in a really fun, accessible and memorable way about a topic that’s important for Australia’s future. ” Hannah Sharp Engineer

Members of the SolarTuk Expedition Julian O'Shea, Jack Clarke and Hannah Sharp at the launch event in Melbourne Members of the SolarTuk Expedition Julian O'Shea, Jack Clarke and Hannah Sharp at the launch event in Melbourne
Members of the SolarTuk Expedition - Julian O'Shea (Unbound), Jack Clarke and Hannah Sharp (both Arup).

Arup engineers making a difference 

The SolarTuk Expedition team is made up of young engineers, designers and explorers, including two Arup staff. Jack Clarke and Hannah Sharp, both from Arup's Adelaide office, have been with the project since it began and will be driving the vehicle on the three week expedition. Both are engineers in Arup’s environment and resources team working across water, sustainability, renewable energy, waste and sustainable transport. 

Jack and Hannah are also involved in sustainable marketing and fundraising, community engagement, facilitation and STEM education, working with groups such as Engineers Without Borders, Pollinate Energy, the Smith Family, Community Housing Limited and many others.

Arup is proud to support the SolarTuk Expedition as the team engages with sustainability change makers around the country. We both aim to inspire, create and deliver projects and ideas that will help make a more sustainable, low carbon future a reality.