Could electric tuk-tuks mitigate city air pollution? | Sunday Observer

Could electric tuk-tuks mitigate city air pollution?

24 March, 2019

With air pollution rates of many major cities in Sri Lanka rising to alarming rates, one man hopes his ‘green’ solution to convert over one million registered tuk-tuks on Lankan streets, to run on electricity would help mitigate the situation. However, vital is the recognition of the importance of the problem and government support, he says.

Global warming has become a mainstream topic in recent times. Much research and experiments are being carried out towards regulating the impact of global warming to keep it from growing even more as a significant public health issue worldwide.

With the rise of global temperature, notably with the greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution has become an irreversible threat to all living beings. As per the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution is the single biggest environmental health risk and in fact, Southeast Asia is on record for being the most polluted region from the entire globe.

In Sri Lanka, there are around one million tuk-tuks which take the lead when it comes to the mode of transport for the public. The registered number of tuk-tuks in Sri Lanka last year was approximately 1, 139,524. As the transport sector is a major contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, electrifying the vehicles popped up as an option to solve the air pollution issue in most parts of the country.

In 2008, the Government banned the import of two stroke tuk-tuks because of their high greenhouse gas emissions. Then they introduced four stroke tuk-tuks as a solution for this.

Currently the Government is offering the tuk-tuk drivers low interest loans to have their tuk-tuks converted into electric tuk-tuks.

Electronic conversion kit

The electric conversion kit for tuk-tuks invented by Sasiranga De Silva, an Automobile Engineer and a lecturer at the Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Moratuwa has offered the tuk-tuk drivers and the consumers a good way to mitigate the air pollution issue they are confronted with every day.

The invention is based around a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which will hopefully save the tuk-tuk drivers around Rs. 180,000 a year while reducing the noxious emissions, but on the flip side, it’s expensive, as with its minimum cost of Rs. 300,000, inclusive of all the tax concessions, the tuk-tuk drivers would not still be able to afford the cost.

However, the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in March 2018 awarded Sasiranga de Silva a grant for his conversion kit considering the feasibility of the electronic conversion kit and for its capacity to save gas emissions more than petrol or diesel fuelled three-wheelers. He won US $10,000 in the first round and then another US $10,000 on consideration of the progress of his project.

Bringing down the cost of the conversion kit as much as possible as for now, with its lithium-ion battery and quality controllers, is a challenge. ‘When compared to the cost of a three-wheeler, it is pretty much a challenge to make the kit affordable for the tuk-tuk drivers’ added Sasiranga. According to the President of the All-Island Three-Wheeler Drivers’ Union Lalith Dharmasekara, it would be better if the Government realises the the gravity and the worth of this project and that they give tax and debt concessions to convert the tuk-tuks. If the Government can do this it would also bring solutions to the motor-traffic issues suh as accidents since the drivers will have to limit their speed and the pick-up capacity will also make it more efficient. ‘To have such efficiency, bringing new technology to the country is much essential’ added Dharmasekara.

Benefits and practicality

The environmental benefits and the monetary benefits resulting in saving money by using the electronic conversion kit are the focus of the UNEP, the Government and the tuk-tuk drivers. Sudhil Jayaruk from the Trishaw union speaking about the invention pointed out several focal points. According to him, their major issues are, the costly process of conversion, the standard of the electric vehicles, their efficiency to travel long distances carrying as many passengers as possible and the lack of charging points to charge their tuk-tuks. He said that the trishaw community would be able to make the best use of innovation like this if the Government chooses to fix the conversion kit for the tuk-tuks assisting them to regulate the cost.

With regard to the issues of practically applying his electronic conversion kit with the existing number and the condition of the trishaws, Sasiranga said, “We’ll have to check for the quality of the chassis of the tuk-tuks. Some of them are very old and not well-maintained. But I hope, at least 80 per cent of the one million tuk-tuks here are in a condition to be converted. But still, bringing the cost of the kit down would be the biggest challenge above all’.

Pics: Ruwan De Silva