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Tuk Tuk transition


With terms such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘green living’ buzzwords in almost every industry today, their impact on the daily lifestyle of an individual has now become significant. Due to the rapid depletion of natural resources, it has become imperative to adopt a developmental approach that focuses on conservation and sustainability. Concepts like reusing, recycling, upcycling and going green have taken centre stage in launching products into the market and are being used extensively with an objective of ensuring a lighter footprint on the planet.

After years of extensive research Sasiranga De Silva’s pet project now is aimed at providing an eco friendly solution to the harmful emissions put out by vehicles – mainly the three wheelers which are popularly known as tuk tuks among the Sri Lankan community. The 32 year old youth who also lectures at Moratuwa University won a $10,000 United Nations grant in March last year to develop his idea of an affordable electric drive-train for the vehicles. The switch to an electric motor powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery could eliminate gasoline emissions from one million vehicles.

Sasiranga  De Silva
Pictures by  Ruwan de Silva

“It all began with converting a Mini Minor. We also made a hybrid powertrain car with the same Mini. Then we came across this old three wheel chassis in the university auto mobile lab. It makes more sense to convert a light weight chassis into an electric vehicle because the energy consumption will be more effective then,” De Silva recalled the origins of his project.

The gifted engineer won an award in the Low Carbon Mobility category at the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge held in Thailand in 2018. The competition was organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and aims to support youth with business ideas to foster low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles through start-ups. Over 180 proposals were submitted for the event and not only did Sisiranga’s proposal make it to the final 12 but he also managed to clinch the prize in the final five. The winners hail from China, Bhutan, the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Samoa, and Thailand from the Low carbon mobility, plastic waste, and energy efficiency categories.

The contestant from the Philippines had recycles fabrics to make women’s garments.

The Samoan national contestant got awarded for her project producing reusable cotton feminine hygiene products. One of the Chinese contestants’ ventures aims to produce biodiesel from waste cooking oil while the other aims to facilitate transactions between building owners with solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations and drivers, through her business Energo Labs.

Not limiting his research to Minis and tuk tuks De Silva and his students have also made Formula Student cars from 2016. They competed and won the competitions organized by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. The team won three awards in IMechE Formula Student UK 2016: Best New Comer, Best Driver and Dedication Formula Student, in 2016. Induwara Munasinghe bagged the title of the Best Driver. TeamSHARK Racing took part in the IMechE Formula Student 2018 competition and took the overall 33rd place in the competition while becoming the second in Asia. De Silva surpervised the team on both these events.

“You build an electric or engine car according to their specifications and take part in the event. All the leading universities in UK and Europe take part in this event along with some contestants from Asian countries. We were noted for our engineering design and skit pad,” he expressed adding that it was quite an achievement as they were competing with experienced teams in the competition in 2018.

“The other teams were backed by some of the best automobile manufacturers in the world and had a lot of facilities within their finger tips. We were financially sponsored by Dimo. The carbon fiber body panels for the 2018 model were sponsored by Southern Spars.”

Queried if there is a speed difference between electric cars and engine drive vehicles and De Silva says that the electric cars have better acceleration comparatively. “It also depends on your design,” he said.

De Silva notes that one of the most challenging aspects of the projects is using circuits.

IMechE Formula Student 2018 in UK

“At times the components might fail or burn out. They are also quite sensitive to the humidity in Sri Lanka so we have to maintain the cool atmosphere. We import things like motors from overseas. That is time consuming,” he explained.

He notes that electric vehicles in general are not that expensive at the moment. The prices are almost similar to average domestic engine cars.

“The battery might deteriorate depending on the usage and the quality of the manufacturer. A car suited for a different sort of climate and environ might cause some problems here,” he opined adding that unless it is a very light vehicle, the engine cannot be powered by solar.

“Fully charged the tuk tuk can run up to about 100 to 110 kilometers per day. We designed the battery pack of the Formula Student to run for about 22 kilometers. The electric three-wheeler is far less costly to operate than those run with gasoline so there will be a lot of monetary savings with the three-wheeler drivers and that could help them uplift their lives,” De Silva said.

A past pupil of D S Senanayake College and Royal College, Colombo, De Silva has been more into studies. He had turned to extra curricular activities after his school days. He has gotten into salsa dancing and had even won amateur dancing competitions during the period.

“Engaging in extra curricular activities can boost your skills. I would encourage youth to get into it from an early age,” he advised.

De Silva’s father, Nihal De Silva, was a High Court Judge. His mother, Thilaka de Silva, was a teacher. His brother, Neomal de Silva is based in the USA.

“My ambition is to develop a sustainable manufacturing industry in Sri Lanka,” he said.

He is currently fine-tuning the conversion kit and hopes to take it to the market soon. He and his students are also developing another electric vehicle to take part in a competition organized by the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) in Germany.

With one of the Formula Student vehicles they designed
Team Mora receiving the EV Awards at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show
Receiving the grant at the Asia Pacific Low Carbon Lifestyles Challenge









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