DhakaTribune
Monday June 26, 2017 02:39 PM

Green transportation to connect rural communities

Green transportation to connect rural communities

BRAC University develops solar assisted, cost-effective tri-wheelers

Researchers at BRAC University have conducted research to develop an environment friendly and cost-effective solar assisted electric tri-wheelerby, integrating the innovative torque sensor technology for the first time on the vehicle.

A group of researchers of the EEE department worked relentlessly to design and develop the prototype three-wheeler electrically assisted human hauler, incorporated with PV panel and torque sensor pedal. Funding was received from IEEE SIGHT USA in order to build this prototype electric rickshaw van for the on-grid and off-grid rural community of Bangladesh. Due to the remarkable performance of the prototype in terms of energy saved from the national grid, increase in total distance coverage, ease of pedaling effort and greater speed limit compared to that of conventional battery operated electric rickshaw, the team was also able to attract Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL), which provided a substantial fund for carrying out a 12 month long pilot project. This involved designing and developing 15 units of solar PV panel assisted electric tri-wheelers.

Developing the prototypes
BRAC University and IDCOL signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and the pilot project was also supported by World Bank. The aim of the project was to design and develop 15 units (5 units of human haulers, 5 units of ambulance vans and 5 units of cargo haulers) of electrically assisted environment friendly tri-wheeler with PV panels and torque sensor pedal technology. The whole project was supervised by a director at BRACU, along with wholehearted efforts and contributions of two research engineers. Moreover, a number of senior BRAC employees working on BRAC Health & Nutrition Programme (HNPP) also assisted BRAC University personnel to complete the project within the month of July, 2016.

The initial stage of the project involved developing three different types of vehicles to serve different purposes – human haulers that can be a more convenient mode of transport for rickshaw passengers, ambulance vans with necessary medical equipment for transporting patients, and cargo haulers for carrying goods such as rice bags, medicines, vegetables etc in large quantities. The field test was carried out for four months at Genda, Savar to analyse and evaluate the performance of these electric vehicles and to collect community feedback from rickshaw pullers, passengers, patients, shopkeepers and people of other various professions. The findings of the field tests showed that the total distance using this eco-friendly technology was around 80-90 km, which is almost three times more than the total distance coverage of conventional electric rickshaws. The vehicle can also be driven at a speed range of around 35-45 km/hr, which is nearly twice the speed of conventional electric rickshaws. The use of solar panels on the roof of the vehicle helps to charge its battery bank, regardless of whether the vehicle is moving.

One of the most attractive features of the developed vehicle is the application of the innovative torque sensor pedal technology, which can significantly reduce the human effort put in pedaling compared to that of a manually driven tri-wheeler. A total of 72% of the available battery storage energy can be saved by the contribution of solar panels and the torque sensor pedal technology, and around 46% of the total saved energy is contributed by the use of torque sensor pedal technology. Thus, the use of torque sensor pedal on these vehicles can undoubtedly increase the battery lifetime compared to that of a typical electric rickshaw.

Far-reaching benefits for rural communities
The developed human hauler can carry around 6-8 people at a time, whereas the typical electric rickshaw can carry only 2 -3 people. Hence, the use of this type of technologically advanced electric tri-wheeler can undeniably improve the income of pullers, and in turn have socio-economic benefits for both on-grid and off-grid rural communities. Based on the qualitative results obtained during the field tests, all three types of vehicles were modified using smaller wheels and thicker axle with a total of eight batteries (each 12V, 50Ah), as well as two 500W brushless DC motors to improve the total mileage coverage and mechanical stability. 400W solar panels are also used to charge the batteries, thus reducing the impact of overloading the national grid.

To address safety issues, the modified ambulance vans are also equipped with rear wheel braking system, reverse gear switch, mirror, triple drum brake, shock absorbers, siren, light and shock absorbers both at the front wheel and rear wheel. All the three wheel’s base width are also widened for better stability during turning in rough surfaces. These vans can have immense benefits to rural populations by making emergency health services more accessible. Usually, patients requiring medical care rely on manually driven tri-wheelers, which are not suitable for emergency situations because of low levels of speed and poor vehicle stability on rough surfaces. Alternatively, the electrically assisted medical vans can reduce the time taken to reach hospitals, provide a less bumpy ride and are also much cheaper than petrol driven four-wheeler ambulances used in urban areas.

Similarly, cargo haulers and human haulers can also improve the living standards of the people by bringing positive socio-economic impact in the rural community.

All of the developed vehicles are environment friendly and feasible for the rural community in Bangladesh.

The use of renewable energy technology in these vehicles can reduce the dependency on the national grid for electricity, and can also contribute to reduced emission of pollutants in the atmosphere as a result of reduced usage of petrol driven vehicles in rural areas.

According to BRAC University, the dissemination of these technologically innovative developed tri-wheelers can bring a positive change in the living standards of rural people. Future market size of these vehicles can be increased and long-term sustainability can be aimed for through financial support of governmental and non-governmental organisations. The future prospect of these vehicles depends upon the development and implementation of proper sustainable business models by entrepreneurs and other business organisations, who can work together to create a thriving business in the transport sector of Bangladesh.

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