In quest for greener cars
Mahmood Sadi

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Have you ever noticed the freakish attires that ramp models put on during the prestigious summer fashion weeks in Milan, Paris or New York? A layman, in most cases, has an innocent notion in his/her mind while watching those shows. Who’s going to wear that in public?

Amateur fuel-efficient car designers around the world have been doing almost the same thing – designing and creating cars which are like those fancy weird contemporary fashion designer’s work. It’s probably best kept at the warehouses of a fashion outlet or at Lady Gaga’s personal wardrobe.

Simply the terms ‘fuel-efficient car’ is dubbed as an oxymoron to many cynics. No engine, whether the one from Maruti’s 800cc or 5,000cc engines of muscle cars from Chevrolet can’t stop carbon emission while playing on the road and running on full throttle. So as long as you have a vehicle with a combustible engine, please keep the word ‘green’ out of it.

Yes, some of the world’s biggest manufacturers have come up with ideas like implementing lower brake specific fuel consumption or turbocharged direct engine to increase the fuel efficiency of a regular car by 5-6 percent.

But considering the fact that over 32 percent of the world’s oil and gas is used for automobile industry, which then accounts for nearly 43 percent of the world’s carbon emission, it’s hard to throw a party for hitting a number like 5-6 percent.

The truth is multi-billion dollar automobile industries haven’t and will not support the cause of creating a space for fuel-efficient cars in the market. Fuel-efficient cars will just become the industry’s ‘killer apps’.

And there you have the oil and gas industry which had not and would not let the people come up with any alternative greener sources of energy to break their monopolised ‘energy’ market.

A US prodigy named Stanley Mayers in 2005 came up with a perfectly designed car which could run by water. He successfully designed and drove that vehicle. After six months or so, he just vanished into thin air. Conspiracy theorists suggested that it was the car industry that made him disappear.

Against the tide, massive scale success in designing and producing fuel-efficient or fuel free cars, however, has come in the form of none other than the great Elon Mask, our modern day Iron Man (Tony Stark).

This genius young billionaire is not just an amateur car designer, rather he is considered to be the Steve Jobs of the automobile industry. In 2010, He had decided to design fuel-efficient electricity driven cars and he did that by establishing a company named Tesla.

Today, Tesla is a multi-billion dollar company and the cars that they have been producing have become a huge hit worldwide, especially in the Occident. Its popularity is also increasing every day. Surprisingly, the price tag of those cars is still kept in reach of the average consumer, even with the plastic wallet.

Nonetheless, reducing carbon emission through modified engine combustion is now the automobile industry’s next challenge, as CEOs of automobile giant General Motors, Tata, Bavarian Motor Works and many more have declared so in the last world’s automobile convention in 2012.

Now, a small country like Bangladesh, with the world’s fifth largest air pollution (a huge thanks to some 1.2 million vehicles that accounts for over 40 percent of the pollution) doesn’t have university level disciple to teach automobile engineering just yet. We also don’t have car manufacturing facilities in the country. So designing fuel-efficient car is barely a concern of ours.

But the local efforts of building an automobile in the backyard, that suits local roads as well as the environment, went back to the early 80s, when former VC of BUET (later the founder VC of Ahsanullah University of science and technology) Prof Dr Mosharrof Hossain Khan designed and implemented (in industrial scale) today’s tempo and three wheeler popularly known as the baby taxi.

These two ‘gems’ of tera-transit mode of transportation has been responsible for ferrying out almost 17 percent of the city’s commuters. Rest aside the fact that four stroke baby taxies are now only found at the country side due to the ban imposed by the transport regulator.

Further effort of designing eco-friendly cars in Bangladesh took place in 2013. BUET and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) had come up with eco-friendly car designs contest, which they named Ecorun.

Ecorun is a contest which has been organised in Japan since 1982. The concept of Ecorun was first introduced in Bangladesh by JICA. They approached BUET regarding the program in May 2011. The mechanical department of BUET was inspired by the proposal of JICA and decided to make an effort to take the concept to the national level, with participation from differnet univeristies.

In September 2011, an inception meeting for Ecorun Bangladesh was held at BUET. In November, the national steering committee was formed with the members from BRTA, JICA, Walton, Runner and most of particiapting institutions BUET, CUET, MIST, IUT and RUET.

Prof Dr Mohammad Ehsan of Mechanical Department of BUET said that the Ecorun of 2013 was a success. “Our first challenge was to develop a target vehicle specification, which is achievable under the constrants of availablity of equipment, time, cost, as well as addressing the aspect of fuel efficieny and the needs of Bangladesh,” he said.

He said that in December 2012, a set of basic technical specification for the lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles was set, based in which the vehicles were designed and fabricated by the participating teams.

The students of BUET designed a lot of cars and they got very interested in the process. The competition gave the students an opportunity to work on their own from scratch. We really want to conduct more such contest in upcoming years because we are confident that if we really try, we can accomplish making our own energy-efficient car.”

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