Marlborough Sounds teen runs van on school's old vegetable oil

A teenager who uses recycled vegetable oil to run his van is on his way to the Kermadec Islands, north of New Zealand, to further his environmental and conservation work.

Neil MacMillan first came up with the idea when he was 10, when he wanted his car to run on alternative fuels. But there was a slight problem: he didn't have a car, much less a driver's licence.

A few years later, the Marlborough Sounds teen converted his new second-hand van so it could run on oil recycled from his school's kitchens.

"They had vegetable oil they'd use in their deep fryers. That usually goes to waste, they just chuck it out, but you can get a bit more use out of it if you put it in a diesel vehicle," he told Newshub.

"I've been running my van off that for the last two years."

While it may seem like a daunting task, Mr MacMillan said it was actually pretty easy to convert the van to use the alternative fuel.

"A lot of people think it's quite a big task - that you have to be a mechanic and change things around - but really the diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil," he said.

"The basics are there. So basically if you filter the vegetable oil and put it in, it just works like that."

The expeditioners spoke to The AM Show before the ship departed.
The expeditioners spoke to The AM Show before the ship departed. Photo credit: Newshub.

A keen environmentalist, Mr MacMillan was drawn to the task in an attempt to reduce his personal footprint.

"More importantly than saving money, I've cut down my carbon footprint by a very large amount," he said.

"There are reasons to protect to the environment and they're generally for the economy, for selfish reasons, for having tourism.

"But really we have a right to protect and preserve. It's been there for us for eons and we've evolved with it, and I think it's just the morally right thing to do and there's really no other way to do it."

Mr MacMillan has just set sail with the Sir Peter Blake Trust as part of the Young Blake Expeditions, heading to the Kermadec Islands with a group of young environmentalists.

There they'll take part in important climate and marine research, he said.

"I'm beyond excited about it. It's an awesome opportunity," Mr MacMillan said.

"It's an important part of Aotearoa because it's a pristine marine environment... and it's something I think the whole of New Zealand could be like."

Sir Peter Blake Trust environmental programme manager Jacob Anderson.
Sir Peter Blake Trust environmental programme manager Jacob Anderson. Photo credit: Newshub.

Jacob Anderson, Sir Peter Blake Trust's environmental programme manager, told Newshub the expedition supports young Kiwis who are actively involved in the environment.

"I think [Sir Peter] would be incredibly proud [of these students]," he said.

"Students get hands-on, applied knowledge working alongside the scientists. Every day we'll be out in the field with the scientists."

The students come from all over the country, ranging from Whangarei down to Timaru - and this year, one student has travelled from Samoa for the opportunity.

"These new opportunities just continue to amaze me, as the programmes continue to grow and trying to reach every child in every classroom, which ultimately is what Peter was trying to do with Blake Expeditions," Mr Anderson said.

For Mr MacMillan, it's an opportunity to see how New Zealand could be preserved for the future - and he's looking forward to seeing some unusual critters while he's away.

"I've heard heaps of stories about amazing things there, such as the black spotted grouper... They're quite inquisitive and curious, they're like the kea of the sea."

This year, the Young Blake Expedition can be tracked online on the Sir Peter Blake Trust website.