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Sri Lankan Engineer Creates Electric Conversion Kits For Auto Rickshaws, Wins $10,000 From UN

February, 12, 2019

IndiaTimes - Global warming, air pollution and other such environmental anomalies are not news to many around the world. Yet, it is seldom that anyone takes the responsibility of tackling these issues on their own. Sasiranga De Silva, a 33-year-old engineer from Sri Lanka is one such personality, and his efforts have most recently been recognised by none other than the United Nations itself.

A lecturer at the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Moratuwa, De Silva has been a fanatic of electric vehicles since long and looks at them as a possible solution to the environmental problems associated with transport. As he aimed to bring a change within his hometown, De Silva focused on the tuk tuks (three-wheeler auto rickshaws) and to reduce the pollution caused by them.

So what did he do?

De Silva developed an affordable conversion kit to allow autos to run on electric power. Based around a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the conversion kit will save auto drivers money over time while reducing harmful emissions, as per Silva.

Silva also says that the conversion kit will allow the autos to cover 110 kms on a single charge. While the recharging of the lithium-ion batteries used in the electric kit can be carried out through the few chargers spread across Colombo, Silva mentioned that he will be providing the auto owners with electric chargers which can be connected to a regular socket to charge the riskshaws overnight.

The accolades

The innovation won De Silva a whopping US$10,000 grant from UN Environment. The grant came as a part of the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, supporting the youth to come up with cutting-edge ideas for energy-efficient, low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles.

De Silva will be using the prize money to carry out more research on the concept. The goal is to bring down the cost of the conversion kit as much as possible. The award is not confined to the cash prize though. As a part of his prize, De Silva will also receive business and marketing training.

Challenges faced

One of the major challenges in carrying out the concept has been the cost of the conversion kits. If the costs are not optimal, the kits might find it hard to make their way to the autos.

Most auto rickshaw drivers in Sri Lanka pay around 700,000 Sri Lankan rupees (~INR 2.8 Lakh) for their vehicles. De Silva is aiming for half of this cost for the conversion, bringing the price of switching the autos to all electric ones to INR 1.4 Lakh.

Silva estimates that exactly half of the amount will be the savings made by the drivers on annual basis so the INR 1.4 Lakh invested in the conversion will be recovered by the drivers within 2 years, churning profit post that.

The low investment and consequent returns are the big appeals here, as not many auto drivers are concerned with the environmental impacts. “For them it’s about saving money,” says De Silva “but when the project goes commercial we will run separate campaigns to educate them on climate change as well.”

The backgrounder

De Silva recalls how he came to be enthusiastic about electric vehicles. “Since my university days, I’ve taken an interest in sustainable energy systems, so I studied solar and wind power but then I narrowed my scope to electric vehicles. I wanted to relate electric vehicles to sustainability,” he mentions.

That is when he decided to focus on auto rickshaws, a mode of transport for much of the country’s population. As of now, Sri Lanka has a total of 3,00,000 autos, post the Sri Lankan government’s ban on their import (two-stroke autos). Now the government is also offering low-interest loans for the owners to convert the auto rickshaws into electric ones.

As electric vehicles gain ground on being the primary weapon in the fight against environmental pollution, several such initiatives have been taken to convert the existing IC engine vehicles to electric ones. Last year, a duo in India had designed such conversion kits for Alto and WagonR in India, allowing them to run on rechargeable batteries instead of fossil fuels.