Innovation at its best
Eco Run races are a Japanese tradition. These races are organized with a view to encouraging the design of eco-friendly, fuel efficient cars. JICA along with the department of Mechanical Engineering of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) arranged the very first Eco Run Bangladesh, which took place on the 15thof March this year. The original format of the competition focuses on the design of eco-friendly 3-wheeler cars. For the Bangladeshi version, a 4-wheeler category was added.
Six technical institutions participated in the event with a total of fifteen vehicles. In both the 3 wheeler and 4 wheeler categories, teams from BUET finished as champions. I talked to the members of the champion 3 wheeler team, Marcus. One drizzly afternoon in an alleyway between two laboratories in BUET, the story of the Eco Run came alive once more.
Imtiaz Ahmed from team Marcus tells me about the fascinating experience that has been Eco Run Bangladesh. With limited resources and quite a bit of effort, these 9 students have managed to create something magnificent. “The thing about the 3 wheeler category was that it offered more scope for innovation compared to the 4 wheeler, which is a well-used template that offers little room for modification,” he says. “If you look at our car, you will notice that nearly everything about it is quite different from what we are used to seeing. The entire design had two focus points: building an eco-friendly vehicle; and building it with as low a cost as possible.” Team Marcus' car has gone through a complete design overhaul from conventional 3 wheelers: there are two wheels in the front, the steering wheel is replaced by a handle, and the gear and clutch are merged together.
Imtiaz tells me all of this was built using the (relatively) meagre sum of 43,000 Taka. “Most motorbikes cost nearly three times that amount. If you talk about large scale production and marketing, adding a full exterior, there is no way the market price of this vehicle can be more than 50,000 Taka.” He says this could be a very good solution for families who cannot afford a car but need one, as the prototype one-seater design can be modified to transport two to three people. A family of three or four riding on a single motorbike – a serious safety risk – is not an uncommon sight on the streets of Dhaka. This could offer a low-cost, eco-friendly alternative. “We started construction in late January and finished in time for the competition – in less than two months, working in a lab.” Industrial production could thus be very swift and easy.
Just how efficient is their design? “From our tests, it is safe to say this car can run an average of nearly 100 kilometers on just 1 liter of fuel (for which octane was used). Since it is such a lightweight model, weighing 46 kilograms without a passenger, it consumes minimal fuel.” The best part about the design, according to him, is that it is made entirely out of parts from the local market – which ensures that if this does eventually go into the market, replacements will be readily available. However, users will probably not require replacements at all. “While the car was still in construction, we had an accident: in short, we ran it into a wall. The interesting thing is, the model is so lightweight and durable that we did not have to replace anything except the wheels!” Imtiaz tells us. That sounds like the perfect transport option when you're driving alongside nutty rickshawalas and nuttier bus drivers.
A motorbike engine was used in the construction of the car as a full powered car engine is not really necessary for such a lightweight vehicle. Imtiaz is hopeful about the possibilities of the design. “This is completely open to modifications. In fact, our prototype can serve as a template for further improvement. We really hope that this finds its way onto the market; because we believe this could be the alternative transport we are all looking for.”