EXPLORER Robert Swan and son Barney have set off on the first ever expedition to the South Pole powered solely by clean energy technologies – and a whisky distillery.

The 61-year-old, who grew up near Barnard Castle, County Durham, was the first man to walk unaided to both north and south poles in the 1980s.

For his final major expedition he has teamed up with his 23-year-old son for the zero carbon South Pole Energy Challenge.

The explorers were due to set off today on the epic 600 mile journey from their base on Union Glacier in Antarctica.

The hi-tech equipment they are carrying includes solar snow melters designed and built at the Ardgowan Distillery in Scotland.

Robert, who attended Aysgarth School at Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale, and Durham University, said they are tackling the 60 day trek to prove renewable technology can work successfully in the harshest of climates.

"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," he added.

The pair are being supported by some of the world’s most technologically advanced companies including NASA.

During the expedition, they will use advanced biofuels to keep warm and dry, a passive solar thermal system to cook with and power their communications.

“We have planned for every scenario but our main contingency for when we’re in an Antarctic blizzard and I can’t see my hand in front of me is the advanced biofuels provided by Shell, which will keep us warm, comfortable and most importantly, safe,”

Robert, who now lives in California but grew up in Whorlton and Wycliffe, near Barnard Castle, founded the 2041 Foundation which is dedicated to the preservation of Antarctica.

Through the extraordinary expedition, the father and son team aim to highlight to younger generations that there is no silver bullet to the challenge of climate change and that it is up to all players in society - including governments, industry, entrepreneurs and corporations to unite to develop a mixture of cleaner energy solutions.

Barney said: "My generation has too much information and we’re tired of the inconvenient truth but this expedition is about the convenient solutions that can address the current climate change challenges.

“Our expedition is a small example of how we can all make choices to help us transition to a cleaner energy future. For people at home who are wondering what they can do, just making small changes like eating from sustainable sources, using less plastic cups and bags, and using solar-powered appliances to charge your phone will all help.”

As well as the snow melters, bosses at the Inverkip distillery, 30 miles west of Glasgow, also gave them two small hip flasks of 20-year-old single malt - one which will be used for a special Hogmanay toast.

The other will accompany the explorers all the way to the

South Pole before being returned to Ardgowan for a special commemorative bottling.

Ardgowan Distillery chief executive Martin McAdam told how they had

become involved in the project because of their "strong background in

low carbon innovation".

He added: "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.

"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.

"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."

Mr McAdam continued: "We sent a couple of prototypes to the team which "If this very simple technology works well in the coming months it could have wider uses - for example in mountaineering."