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Innovation

Aug 03, 2004
Electric vehicle, Eco-Rick

All of a sudden, we are at reality time. Ignore the scare depicted in the recent film, “Day After Tomorrow”. Ignore even Prof. Lovelock, declaring his support for nuclear plants to stop global warming. Without all that, your own experienece will tell you that we have hotter days, longer summers, scantier rainfall and floods spreading wider.

It is time to modify purist, fundamentalist environmental positions and choose among lesser evils, even as we hope and wait for the magic bullet. That’s the merit of Prof. Lovelock’s stand. That’s also why electric vehicles are better than gasoline ones. Of course, electricity must still be produced --mostly using coal-- in power-stations, but being fewer they can be monitored and controlled. After all, they are now investigating technologies that can trap CO2 at power station chimneys and then stuff it deep into the earth where it will cause no harm,—and may if fact, do some good.

The biggest offender today, it is clear, is the automobile as we know it. Electric vehicles always capture our imagination for the obvious difference they can make. The state of California, USA took the lead in spurring electric vehicle research: it mandated that 10% of all vehicles sold in that state must be electric. Even that minor step was a major scare for accountants in big car companies; they have now succeeded in getting that law diluted. It may be a few decades before cars go green.

That is why an exciting electric vehicle initiative in India is good news for friends of this planet. Bajaj Auto is set to launch the Eco-Rick, an all electric auto-rickshaw, in September this year. It can travel 130 km between charges; each full charge takes 7 hours. A few demo pieces have been running around the Taj Mahal, Agra where gasoline vehicles are banned. During the 3 year trials, the vehicle design has acquitted itself. Bajaj will produce about 60 Eco-Ricks per month initially, each vehicle costing Rs.1.5 Lakhs.

The electric drive that powers the Eco-Rick, began life as a darling of solar car enthusiasts who race their concept cars over hundreds of kilometres in the USA and Australia. A novel design by Dean Patterson of Northern Territory University [NTU] of Australia is very popular among university teams that build solar cars. It is worth understanding it.

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