Ardgowan Distillery helps polar explorers on low carbon quest to the South Pole

A father and son aim to become the first people to trek to the South Pole powered solely by renewable energy sources – with a little help from the Ardgowan Distillery.

Explorer Robert Swan was the first man in history to walk unaided to both poles in the 1980s. And he’s about to embark on his last major expedition, an epic 600-mile, 60-day trek on foot to the South Pole.

Robert Swan and Declan Flanagan with one of the prototype melters during the expedition to Union Glacier in 2016.

Robert Swan and Declan Flanagan with one of the prototype melters during the expedition to Union Glacier in 2016.

Robert will walk alongside his 23-year-old son, Barney, and their journey – named the South Pole Energy Challenge – will be the world’s first to use zero carbon all the way.

The two-man team will be setting off soon from their field base at Union Glacier – and will be relying on hi-tech kit from the likes of Shell and Toyota on their low carbon quest.

And among the advanced equipment the duo will be relying on will be solar snow melters designed and built in Scotland – by a new Scotch whisky distillery.

Last year Robert approached the Ardgowan Distillery for some very specific help.

“At the distillery our team has a very strong background in low carbon innovation, and Robert came to us with a clear challenge – to design and build an effective solar snow melter which would be reliable enough to survive the rigours of an eight-week expedition,” explains Martin McAdam, chief executive of the Ardgowan Distillery.

“We were delighted to help. Getting enough fresh water to drink is a constant challenge in the Antarctic, and usually this is done by melting snow and ice with kerosene, which of course burns a lot of carbon,” says McAdam, himself a renewable energy veteran.

“Our team designed a very simple and robust melter comprising a matt black stainless-steel flask encased in super-strong clear Lexan plastic, with inert argon gas as an insulating layer in between.

They’re designed to be strapped on top of Barney and Robert’s sledges so they can capture the maximum heat of the sun as they trek along, to provide a continual supply of drinking water,” McAdam explains.

“We sent a couple of prototypes to the team which they tested during their trial run in the Antarctic last year, and the feedback was so positive we were asked to provide five for the expedition.

If this very simple technology works well in the coming months it could have wider uses – for example in mountaineering. But overall we are just delighted to help – we have a strong belief in renewable energy and our new distillery will incorporate a number of design features to reduce the use of energy and water.”

Fortunately for Robert and Barney, the new distillery was also able to provide them with something other than water to drink on their trek.

“We did also manage to send two small flasks of a very special 20-year-old single malt which was taken straight from a single cask here in Scotland. The team have promised to have a dram from one flask on Hogmanay, and to take the other all the way to the South Pole. We then plan to bring it back to Scotland to form part of an exclusive commemorative bottling."

“We wish them all the very best luck for their trip.” McAdam concludes.

Commenting on the expedition, Robert Swan said:

“Increasing the use of renewable sources of energy is essential to reducing CO2 emissions. By putting these clean energies to the test in Antarctica, the Earth’s harshest wilderness, Barney and I want to prove that they can be developed for use anywhere, and therefore play a crucial part in helping the planet transition to a low carbon future.”

Ardgowan Distillery