In Uganda, a college project that led to ‘Africa’s first electric car’ is now an automobile start-up on course to mass-produce green vehicles for Africa.
Off Kampala’s chaotic arterial streets, we are on a dirt road with speed bumps that are large mounds of red earth. The red leads to a yellow building up a slope with awkward barbed wire fencing on its compound walls.
We are at Kiira Motors Corporation’s offices in Ntinda, in northeastern Kampala, home to what the company calls ‘Africa’s first electric car’ and ‘Africa’s first solar-powered bus’.
Outside the main building, a large white bus is parked under a makeshift shed. A scaled-down model of the same is placed under the stairway leading up to the offices. In the distance, a profusion of plantain trees; and a searing sun at 9:30AM.
The bumpy roads to Kiira are in a way akin to the journey ahead for this automobile start-up, ever since the green transportation initiative it kick-started in a little corner of Uganda.
“It’s an uphill task but we are working round-the-clock to deliver on our promises to our nation and the world,” says Allan Muhumuza, Vice-President, Marketing & Sales of Kiira, on the company’s mission to build eco-friendly mobility solutions for urban masses in a country of about 40 million.
It all started in 2007 as an extra-curricular activity by a group of students and teachers of the Department of Engineering and Mathematics led by Professor Sandy Stevens Tickodri-Togboa and Paul Isaac Musasizi, currently CEO of Kiira, at Uganda’s Makerere University.
Tickodri-Togboa was head of the department and, together with Musasizi, decided “the paradigm for training university students should be changed, as by the time they graduated, they didn’t have the skills for a working world”.
So they decided to start various extra-curricular projects for students after normal class hours.
Along the way, they were invited to be part of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) initiative with the aim of designing and producing a five-passenger plug-in hybrid electric vehicle targeting the Indian market.
Makerere was “the only participant from Africa”, and as part of the project, eventually developed the two-seater Kiira EV, aptly the color green.
The financing came from the Presidential Initiative Fund for Science and Technology Innovations, and the electric car designed and built in Uganda for the first time was launched by President Yoweri Museveni in 2011.
“The original idea was to use the electric car in the Makerere University campus,” recalls Tickodri-Togboa.
In 2014, the team built Kiira EV SMACK, a sedan its makers say is ‘Africa’s first electric hybrid vehicle’; and thereafter in 2016, the 35-seater Kayoola Solar Bus, again ‘a first in Africa’.
“That we have talent in Uganda has been demonstrated with minimum resources… and we also have very good natural resources,” says Musasizi, the engineer-entrepreneur behind Kiira.
The government of Uganda, acting through the Uganda Investment Authority, has now allocated 100 acres of land for a vehicle assembly plant expected to open in Jinja, a town in the eastern region of Uganda, in 2018.
In contrast to the used expensive imported vehicles on Uganda’s roads, these will be factory-fresh vehicles made in Uganda.
Right now, Kiira has the three prototypes, and is looking at 305 units in the first year of production. These will mostly be pick-up trucks and buses.
The idea is to also convert the masses using public transport – mostly the ubiquitous matatus and boda bodas.
“We want to shift the market from 14-seater matatus to this. But most of all we want to reduce traffic and congestion. Our buses will be bigger to seat more people,” says Muhumuza, also an engineer.
“We realized that if we are to solve Africa’s traffic woes, the biggest need was to address public mass mobility, as that’s where the volumes and problems were. But also at the same time provide sustainable green solutions… Our emphasis was on the technology, to show that Africa can build solutions for Africa and these can be futuristic as well.”
At the time it was built, the solar bus cost an estimated $150,000 – it has solar panels on the top that powers lithium-ion batteries. If mass-produced, costs will come down.
“It’s a capital-intensive project and we are open to get tech and financing partners,” says Muhumuza, adding Kiira is in advanced talks with some technological partners.
“We are seeing a niche, a special place in public mobility in urban spaces that can be addressed by green buses,” says Musasizi.
East Africa’s automobile sector seems on track for more news. In neighboring Rwanda, there are reportedly plans to set up a Volkswagen manufacturing plant.
Outside the offices of Kiira, the prototype hybrid sedan is being ripped apart by men in blue overalls and being re-engineered. The car is a mere skeleton of its former self, but its journey on Uganda’s bustling streets, powered by an African sun, may just be about to begin.
Metals are a core component of green technology, yet the gathering and refining of metals is far from being environmentally friendly due to air and water pollution, as well as damage to natural habitats. It’s an ongoing quandary for the metals industry and the world.
How Governments Push Back
Governments generally regulate mining to limit its impact on the environment. Certain countries, such as El Salvador and China, have begun to expand regulations in response to environmental factors. China increased its regulation of the metal industry to reduce air pollution, which has led to the country’s ongoing problem with smog. New regulations resulted in the closing of metal refineries, plants and mines.
El Salvador chose to ban all faucets of metal production last month in lieu of revised regulations. The unprecedented move resulted from the country’s limited supply of available clean water, which new mines could potentially pollute.
Decisions such as China’s and El Salvador’s emphasize the growing importance of the environment, renewable energy and environmentally-friendly practices to a government and its constituents.
How Metal Is Giving Back
- Metal is essential for green technology. Companies focused on green technology rely on metals to make products like wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles.
- Raw metals, such as copper, aluminum and especially lithium have grown in demand due to their use in environmentally-friendly products. All three of these metals are used by manufacturers of electric cars.
- Metal alloys assist in the production of green products, as well as extending the longevity of items. Since each alloy has unique physical and mechanical properties, they can be used in different ways.
- Aluminum alloy is used for alloy wheels because it’s lightweight and resistant to corrosion, which reduces gas mileage for non-electric cars and extends the lifetime of the wheel for both electric and non-electric cars.
- Metal is a crucial component of green products and initiatives, which complicates its position in a world that’s becoming more conscious of the environment.
How Science Is Fighting Back
Scientists recognize the metal industry’s unique situation and its invaluable role in green technology. Many have begun research into ways to reduce the industry’s sizeable carbon footprint and make it more environmentally friendly.
One method, developed by an MIT researchers, produces metals and other alloys without carbon emissions. Another method creates green technology for cooling products, which release gases that contribute to global warming, through a new type of alloy. A third method makes more durable and longer lasting alloys for large-scale building and engineering projects.
Another series of methods or tactics focus on sustainability practices, which many companies in the metal industry have adopted.
In the U.S., these practices include government programs, such as the Lean and Clean Advantage, which analyzes and reviews a company’s processes and resulting waste and provides alternatives for reducing waste.
The metal industry occupies a unique position in today’s greener world. It’s necessary in a variety of products, including green technology, and it’s often considered the alternative to throwaway, plastic products, such as straws. Its production and refinement contributes to global warming and pollution.
How the industry responds to alternatives and initiatives by scientists and governments will directly impact its future with the governments that control and grant access to resources the industry needs to thrive.
So far, the metal industry is conducive to being more environmentally-conscious. Aside from participating in government initiatives, the industry has begun to publish magazines, host trade shows and support conferences that focus on environmentally-friendly practices.
ST&I can help implement the SDGs in more ways than many policymakers realise, says Måns Nilsson.
The 2030 Agenda and its centrepiece, the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs), call for a transformation in how societies interact with the planet and each other. This transformation will need new technologies, new knowledge and new ways of structuring societies and economies.
Scientific research obviously has a central role. But is innovation the only way it can contribute?
I was recently part of an independent expert group set up by the European Commission to advise on the role of science, technology and innovation (ST&I) in implementing the new global sustainable development agenda.  We identified many, sometimes unexpected, aspects of ST&I’s potential role, and made some recommendations on how to maximise the benefits.
I see three principal roles for ST&I: characterising the challenges; providing the solutions; and strengthening public institutions and society. 
The 2030 Agenda is based on a principle of universality. This means that every country should contribute to achieving the larger vision of global sustainable development. But — naturally — the challenges, priorities and options for action will vary between countries, and for the different groups or institutions involved.
“Scientific research can help to identify precisely what the sustainability challenges are in different contexts.” Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Institute
Scientific research can help to identify precisely what the sustainability challenges are in different contexts, what are the root causes of those challenges and how they relate to other challenges.
The agenda also needs to be interpreted. The SDGs may be numerous, but they are also notoriously vague. This allows — in fact, requires — countries to interpret them, work out where to focus their energies and decide what targets to set. This applies beyond governments too, to the different groups and institutions working to advance sustainable development.
This interpretation is largely a social and political process, but science has a key role to play, for example to provide data and models exploring how different targets interact. This is one role policymakers don’t normally consider.
Finally, science has a role in tracking progress towards the goals. Some targets lend themselves to measurement with indicators derived from the natural sciences, but most require contributions from social and behavioural sciences too.
The second way ST&I can contribute is by providing the technologies, strategies and business models for implementing the SDGs. We simply do not yet have all the solutions we need to make this agenda a reality.
Certainly much could be achieved through making wider use of already available or emerging technologies and know-how. But there will always be a need to adapt them and innovate. To make this happen, we will need to better align funding models, institutions and mindsets with the needs of sustainable development. Research institutions tend to be stuck in sectoral or disciplinary straitjackets, but delivering on the SDGs requires multidisciplinary work.
The 2030 Agenda explicitly recognises that sustainability challenges are fundamentally inter-related. Similarly, the solutions will need to integrate — or at least coordinate — action by many groups, informed by diverse scientific fields. A key role of research here is to ensure that agendas are coherent: that progress in one sustainability area does not undermine progress in another.
Scientific research can also help in assessing current practices, strategies and policy proposals — with an eye to capturing how different goals interact (both the trade-offs and the synergies). The aim here is to look for improvements, identify potential consequences and explore how promising activities could be scaled up or transplanted.
And we should not overlook a final type of contribution, even though it is less direct and often goes unrecognised.
“Scientists will also need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new ways of working and thinking.” Måns Nilsson, Stockholm Environment Institute
First, the research community is uniquely placed to serve as a neutral forum and platform for dialogue between government, business, civil society and other groups or organisations.
Second, it contributes to development and democracy. In the past, institutions such as the World Bank have viewed research and higher education as a private and individual concern rather than a social benefit — so, for example, they have encouraged borrowing countries to reduce public investment in favour of privatisation.
But in the past 20 years, development policymakers and practitioners have become more aware of the development benefits of long-term investment in research institutions.These are not only in terms of research results that can be put to productive use, but also in building up an educated middle class that promotes social stability and democratic processes.
What does this mean for science?
To say that implementation of the SDGs must rest on solid scientific foundations does not only mean that politicians, businesses and civil society should listen to what science has to say. To pursue this agenda, some scientists will also need to step out of their comfort zones and embrace new ways of working and thinking.
As water scarcity drowns the globe in worry, scientists are looking to more innovative technologies to maximise the use of what resources we do have.
A recent study found that more than 4-billion people experienced severe water scarcity over the past year and predicts it to get much worse in the next 15 years, South Africa has to take into consideration the various ways it can best use the allocation of funds by government to drought relief.
“Everything is mobile-first, in South Africa we have a lot of people accessing the internet but primarily via their mobiles so if you extrapolate this trend to mobility, there is something we call the Internet-of-Things (IoT),” said Lee Naik, Managing Director at Accenture Digital.
Naik adds: “Objects, be it desks, tables and pot plants are starting to go online by having sensors on them and as these sensors start getting connected to the internet, the question remains, can we extrapolate that data for new ways of how we work, how we run things and how we drive the economy.”
In an era where drought is common, could IoT actually help?
There are two examples as to how it could through agriculture and water piping.
“One – there’s a huge trend globally and a lot of acquisitions happening in this space, organisations are starting to put sensors on to the actual tilling equipment that ploughs the land and what happens is as you start to plough the land, as opposed to the farmer deciding what seed to plant, the sensors tell you based on the chemical composition which is the right seed to produce for that year to maximise outputs for the farmer and his revenue stream,” said Naik.
“Second, the use of IoT sensors when it comes to water, electricity and other key government utilities, what we start to see is they start to fit sensors into their piping infrastructure so before a leak occurs they actually know about it in advance and deploy teams to resolve the problem.”
Through those methods says Naik, we can proactively practice “predictive maintenance”, however the challenge comes in when one can get overwhelmed by data.
“In many cases we find that in South Africa that most organisations have many big data analytic-type technologies but very few have actual outputs that originate from these technologies.”
The key point Naik makes to those organisations is to ask the right questions in advance such as which seeds performed the best in the last ten years?
“Most of our utility players have run trial runs with this technology, so the future looks quite bright as far as IoT and South Africa” is concerned”.
South Africa’s most ambitious young scientists with an interest in sustainability research are being invited to take part in the international 2015 Green Talents Competition which offers the opportunity for its winners to promote their research in Germany and be granted unique access to the elite of the country’s sustainability research field.
With 2015 named the “City of the Future” Science Year, organisers of the Green Talents competition have announced that they particularly welcome submissions relating to this topic. The competition is however still open to all fields and offers equal chances to win. The deadline for submission is 2 June 2015, 12 p.m. CET.
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has held the prestigious ”Green Talents – International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development” since 2009 to promote the international exchange of innovative green ideas. The award, under the patronage of Minister Professor Johanna Wanka, honours 25 young researchers each year. The winners come from numerous countries and scientific disciplines and are recognised for their outstanding achievements in making our societies more sustainable. Selected by a high-ranking jury of German experts the award-winners are granted unique access to the country’s research elite.
The 25 Green Talents 2015 will be selected by a high-ranking jury of German experts.
The prestigious 2015 award includes an invitation to visit Germany later in the year to participate in the fully funded two-week science forum. While touring Germany, the award-winners will have access to top science and research institutions that will offer unique insights into their work.
Award-winners will also be granted a chance to present themselves and their work in person during individual appointments with experts of their choice (during the two-week science forum).
A fully funded research stay of up to three months will be offered at an institution of the award-winner´s choice in 2016. Additionally, the Green Talents of 2015 will gain exclusive access to the “Green Talents Alumni Network” of 130 high-achievers in sustainable development from over 40 countries.
Sustainable development has been defined by the competition organisers as leading an environmentally friendly life in a way that conserves resources. This is essential to preserve our world for subsequent generations and particularly important in enabling our cities to overcome the challenges ahead. With its top innovation and research centres, Germany supports these efforts in particular by intensifying international cooperation among the bright young minds of tomorrow.
Those wishing to enter the competition must satisfy the requirements that they:
• Are enrolled in a Master’s programme or have completed higher academic degrees (Master/PhD) with significantly above-average grades at the time of application.
• Have an excellent command of English
• B Be a non-German citizen and reside outside of Germany. Not eligible to apply are German passport holders as well as anyone living in Germany at the time of application (even if the residence is limited in time).
Applicants need to register on at www.greentalents.de.
Source: All Africa
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