They got together to work on a plan to build an electric car for their final-year project. But during discussions someone spoke about converting a conventional autorickshaw into an electric vehicle. It clicked.
There are six lakh or more autorickshaws in Kerala. Most of them are older than 15 years and are big environment polluters. However, if they are disposed of, the waste they could generate could be enormous. Besides, disposing of an old auto or buying a new one will have a huge financial burden on people's lives.
Of late, the government has started encouraging a shift from conventional fuels to electric vehicles. However, a new electric auto would cost a bomb. So why not change the heart of the old auto, thought the students and decided to go ahead with their plan.
Through the project they aim to reduce emissions, generate more employment, avoid environment problems caused by discarded vehicles and their parts, and offer a cheaper alternative to buying a costlier electric auto. The final-year students of Kottiyam Sree Narayana Polytechnic College in Kollam are behind this project.
When a petrol auto became electric
First, they arranged a Bajaj auto that was more than 15 years old and with a two-stroke engine. They retained its gearbox but removed all other engine parts and fixed a 3 kW DC motor. Usually, small electric autos won't get a gear system and such autos will have trouble carrying loads and climbing inclines. E-autos with more power usually come with a gear system. The gearbox was retained to negotiate gradients; when more torque is need the gear can be changed. Besides, while carrying load it also helps reduce power consumption.
They used a 48V 100Ah lithium battery for the auto. Around Rs 1,10,1000 was spent for the battery, while the motor cost Rs 50,000. Their aim was to reduce the weight of the vehicle to the minimum. The final result - 520 kg. On a full charge, the electric auto can cover around 80 km. A full charge takes eight units of electricity and six hours. The maximum speed is 50 kmph. The battery is portable, which means the battery can be removed from the auto and recharged at home or elsewhere. The project took three weeks to complete.
The project was led by Sharath, Rahul Chandran, Aneesh, Achu Vinayan and Gayatri. All the 54 students in the class, including 14 girls, took part in the project. On electrical issues, they were guided by Aakash Kumar from their department. Since Kottiyam SN Polytechnic doesn't have an automobile wing, Attingal Government Polytechnic's automobile department head Premjith Prabhakaran supervised them on usage of auto parts. Principal Ajith and electrical department head Seema extended their full support to the students. The fittings and other works of the auto were carried out at an outside workshop. The total bill came to around Rs 2 lakh.
If govt adopts it
Through their conversion project, the students have shown that there is no need to spend big money on new electric autorickshaws. Instead of buying only the motor, a 4 kW motor, gearbox and half axle are available as a single unit in the market. But only the motor was changed to cut down on costs. However, if the government takes initiative to import such units, the cost will be less. If ordered in bulk, a unit will cost only Rs 60,000. Include the lithium-ion battery, a conventional auto can be converted to an electric vehicle for around Rs 1 lakh.