Promoting sustainable transport through adventure

October 11, 2021

After designing and building a solar powered tuk tuk, Julian O’Shea realised how novelty could bring attention to eco-vehicles and inspire sustainable lifestyle decisions.

Image:SolarTuk Expedition (Julian O’Shea, Jack Clarke, Hannah Sharp, Mario Gonzalez)

Monash PhD candidate Julian O’Shea is promoting sustainable transport through adventure.

Light passenger and commercial vehicles account for 61% of transport emissions and more than 11% of all Australian greenhouse gas emissions so Julian knows sustainable, smaller vehicles are the way of the future, and is showcasing the benefits through his PhD with Monash Arts, Design and Architecture.

After designing and building a solar powered tuk tuk that he and his team drove from Melbourne to the Great Barrier Reef, Julian realised how novelty could bring attention to eco-vehicles and inspire sustainable lifestyle decisions.

“It was an interesting vehicle with an interesting journey so people were really engaged,” Julian said.

Travelling at just 50km per hour, this zero-emission road trip had dozens of media appearances and directly engaged thousands of students and community members across the country.

The adventure inspired Julian to design a series of sustainable scooters and bikes.

“I realised how deliberately doing something that’s quirky and different can attract attention while showing how sustainable vehicles work.

“These vehicles are a tool to connect with people about things like sustainability and how we move in climate change.”

Julian says people are already starting to engage with new forms of transport.

“You’re not going to replace the car in all forms, for all trips, but I think for many Australians the best second car is a micro-vehicle.”

“We don’t always need a 1 tonne piece of metal to move one 68kg human”

When COVID-19 hit, Julian turned to social media to get his message across, making educational content through short videos on Youtube and TikTok. State Library Victoria recognised the value of this outreach and awarded Julian a $20,000 grant to develop a creative concept that draws on the Library’s vast collection.

Julian is completing his PhD with the Mobility Design Lab in Monash Art, Design and Architecture (MADA). The lab’s deputy director, Dr Robbie Napper, says Julian’s work connects the public to important research.

“It is the perfect accompaniment to transport innovations – in our own lab and across the sector. It gets the message out there, propelling real change.”

Julian is a semi-finalist in the 2021 Asia-Pacific Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition. Much like Julian’s work, the global competition challenges participants to showcase complex topics in an engaging way, easily understood by a general audience. 

View Julian’s 3MT presentation, “A Vehicle for Change”, and read his commentary on micro-mobility at Monash Lens.

To find out more about the Three Minute Thesis competition, visit

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