The world has been looking for cleaner, greener and cheaper mobility solutions and a whole bunch of e-bike startups have been showing us the road. However, challenges like battery range, speed, charging time, comfort and, above all, cost remain. So far, the e-bikes have been priced around Rs 1.25 lakh. Can a student project from Thiagarajar Polytechnic College, Salem, Tamil Nadu, show the way in reducing the costs? Well, six final-year mechanical engineering students—Elavarassan, Abinash, Ahmed Taufeeq, Balachandran, Chandradevan and Jagadeeswaran—aided by their faculty at the 60-year old polytechnic grabbed an old petrol motorcycle ready for the scrap heap and set to work on it. What emerged was Fuerza—meaning ‘force’ in Spanish—an e-bike developed at just under a lakh of rupees.
The jaunty red-and-blue bike put together by the students can run 80 km on full electric charge, thanks to an efficient lithium ion battery and recharge for the bike costs a mere Rs 20. An impressed jury at India’s first new Clean and Intelligent Mobility Mission Festival 2019-2020, instituted under the aegis of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), awarded the project first prize and a cash award of Rs 50,000. What prompted the students to undertake the project? The students say that when they looked at what was preventing consumers from switching to e-bikes, the lack of charging stations was a big barrier but the biggest barrier was the pricing. This is what they sought to address. Fuerza was put together at a really low cost, pointing to the possibility of converting similar old vehicles into ‘green’ transport.
In the case of e-bikes, other than the vehicle itself, charging points and batteries add to the cost. The students had to choose components carefully to keep them cost-effective yet efficient and convenient and they allowed themselves a period of three months to research the requirements and options. First, they chose a brushless DC Motor able to deliver a maximum speed of 40 kmph. It’s noiseless and also gives high power transmission to the system. Next, they chose an efficient lithium-ion battery which keeps the bike running for a maximum of 80 km on a full charge. They made sure recharge for the bike would cost below Rs 20.
The design and fabrication of the structure of the bike was perhaps the most important part. A belt drive was chosen that would reduce power consumption and protect the motor’s life. At the same time, the structure had to support the carrying of load. The students were eventually able to design the system to bear a load of 250 kg at a speed of 35 kmph. Another issue to address was that of storage space. They used the fuel tank to convert it to an all-purpose storage unit of 12-litre capacity. The bike’s electric system is also customised using a mono shock absorber to reduce the vibrations affecting the body when the roads are bumpy, a reality in most of India.
The students spent Rs 98,000 on the Fuerza prototype, but claim it can be mass manufactured for Rs 60,000-70,000. For V Karthikeyan, the proud principal at Salem-based Thiagarajar Polytechnic College, this student project which has been making waves in engineering circles, is an example of what the institute has been striving to do – instilling learning by doing. He is confident that once the lockdown is over, the college team would showcase its e-bike to bike manufacturers.
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