Posted on: 30th April 2012
“For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand”
Humans can walk at an average speed of 5kph. Apparently, we have been walking this way for 1.5 million years. In the Developed World we walk less than our ancestors, average annual walks per capita in the UK declined from 292 to 245 in the ten years to 2005 but total per capita travel distance increased five fold in 50 years. Europeans walk about 380kms per annum while Americans walk about 140kms. A woman seeking and carrying water and food in Africa will walk about 2,200kms per year. She will carry about 20kg of water on her head for about 1,200kms per year. Women, men and children are beasts of burden who carry up to 35kg “human head haulage” (wood, crops and grains, and family food) over distances reaching 12kms per day.
Through semantic progression, the English word “walk” derives from an old Saxon word “wealcan” meaning to roll. As it happens, rolling is a highly efficient means of transporting mass (weight). The wheel may be the most important human invention. The Mesopotamians are credited with inventing, or more likely adapting, it for transport (apparently somebody by design or accident turned a potter’s wheel on edge and had a “eureka” moment). In addition to their ubiquitous use in transport machines, wheels are essential to almost all industry, gear and leverage systems, domestic machines, computer technology and all kinetic alternative energy technologies.
Moving about the Planet
Our ability to travel and to access transport vehicles strongly reflects our economic status and defines much of our life quality. But vehicles and transport infrastructure are concentrated in the Developed World. The US has 828 vehicle per 1,000 residents and has a total of 250 million vehicles. This can be contrasted with Africa where 20 vehicles serve 1,000 people. The EU has over 5,000,000kms of paved roads. Excluding South Africa, less than 200,000kms of Africa’s roads are paved. About 70% of Africa’s rural population lives at least 2kms from an all-season road. In consequence, this blog is about a project to produce a wheeled vehicle to transport people, water, food, aid, education, e.t.c. along those initial off road kilometres “The First Mile”.
“In Sao Paulo, … the average daily travel time for the poorest quintile is four hours and 25 minutes, compared to three hours and 50 minutes for the middle quintile. Workers are returning to their homes quite exhausted from the arduous travel alone. In Harare, Zimbabwe, the poor spend on average 70 minutes per day traveling, while for the wealthy the average commute time is only 55 minutes. It is also fairly typical for the poor to spend between 25 percent and 35 percent of their disposable income on transport. These averages mask the fact that many of the urban poor are elderly, children, women taking care of children, disabled, or otherwise do not work regularly, and therefore spend no time on long-distance commuting, so the average tends to under-represent the size of the travel burden on the working poor.” Urban Transportation and the Millenium Development Goals, Walter Hook PhD.
“the “mobility gap” between developing and industrialized regions remains substantial. In 2000, residents in North America, the Pacific OECD (Japan, Australia, and New Zealand), and Western Europe traveled 17,000 PKT [Passenger Kilometres Travelled] per capita on average, five times as much as people in the developing world. These differences are even larger on a world-regional scale. Residents of North America, the region with the highest level of mobility, traveled 25,600 km per year, while people in sub-Saharan Africa (not including South Africa) traveled just 1,700 km.” Long-Term Trends in Global Passenger Mobility, Andreas Schäfer.
“Because the poor are unlikely to own the motorized vehicles for which most urban roads are designed, they are underrepresented among the beneficiaries of road investments. At the same time, they are over-represented among the victims of the adverse impacts that these road investments frequently cause.” Walter Hook, PhD.
“In 1998, developing countries accounted for more than 85% of all deaths due to road traffic crashes globally and for 96% of all children killed. Moreover, about 90% of the disability adjusted life years lost worldwide due to road traffic injuries occur in developing countries.” The neglected epidemic: road traffic injuries in developing countries, Vinand M Nantulya & Michael R Reich.
“Roads are not generally designed for safe travel by non-motorized means, but rather to increase vehicle speeds. Around 1.2 million people die each year in road traffic accidents, and another 50 million are seriously injured. Once injured, a low-income person is likely to be disabled, and trapped in poverty. According to the World Health Organization, in developing countries road accidents tend to be ranked second to sixth among the leading causes of death for people between the ages of 15-60. The majority of the victims of traffic accidents tend to be low- and moderate-income pedestrians.” Walter Hook PhD.
When humans can afford to pay for their transport, donkeys and bicycles are initially acquired. There are about 40 million donkeys on the planet of whom 38 million live and work in Developing and Under Developed regions. They live, work and die bearing the excesses of fortune and misfortune meted out to and by their owners and employers. Horses, oxen, elephants, camels, dogs and other animals are also harnessed to carry loads, pull ploughs and turn mill wheels. Were they the panacea to raise whole societies from subservience, they would have achieved that by now. In fact, as societies advance, their donkey and working animal populations decline, an indicator that, like human beasts of burden, donkeys and other animals merely maintain a status quo and do not advance society.
There are about 1 billion bicycles operational on the planet. They are a unique, hybrid vehicle in that they are a transport machine powered by humans, for a speed and energy expended gain over walking and hauling on foot. In Developing Countries studies have suggested that bicycle use can advance income by up to 35%. Bicycles are cheap but have limited carrying capacity and require healthy cyclists, adequate road surface and a bicycle aware driving public. “Road traffic injuries are responsible for 1.2 million deaths annually; low- and middle-income countries bear 90% of the death and injury toll. Degradation of the built urban and rural environment, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, has been cited as a key risk factor” WHO
About 200 million motorbikes are in use worldwide. Some 120 million are used in Developing and Under Developed countries, reflecting both population density and the poor purchasing power of those who need vehicles. But motorbikes bring risks, especially in the Underdeveloped World. “A total of 1032 road traffic injuries were reported during the study period. Motorcycle traffic injuries accounted for 37.2% of all traffic injuries.” Motorcycle injuries as an emerging public health problem in Mwanza City, north-western Tanzania, Phillipo L. Chalya, et al.
Regular access to internal combustion engined vehicles can dramatically increase quality of life throughout Under Developed regions. Rough undulating track roads, heat and dust, rain and mud, irregular servicing and a dearth of replacement parts degrade the abilities of the toughest vehicles. However, even where suitable vehicles are available, several factors affect their usefulness. A regular fuel and lubricant supply is essential, vehicle replacement parts and skilled vehicle mechanics must be available. As refined oil products and vehicle parts are generally imported, a well oiled commercial and infrastructural system is imperative. Reputable foreign exchange banking, proper purchasing and bidding skills, a complex system of storage and transport facilities, employing skilled professional personnel, must be in place. Unfortunately, in many regions the importation and procurement of fuels and lubricants is concentrated within the ambit of an elite with little or no incentivisation to meet market needs or keep costs within bounds. Refineries are often old, have limited capacities and are not serviced or maintained regularly. Inadequate storage infrastructures limit distribution flows making fuel supplies almost impossible to secure in rural areas. Vehicle parts may not be available or may take weeks to be delivered and when delivered the necessary knowhow to fit them may not be available, parking a vehicle and denying its users valuable, sometimes urgent, service.
The most fundamental need
Every day a human requires a minimum of about 10 litres of water to drink, wash and cook with. Every day about 850 million Europeans use an average of 200 litres of water, while every day in Africa and Asia 885 million people do not have access to a minimum 10 litres of clean water. Every day worldwide 4,000 children die from thirst or the consumption of contaminated water. Every day women and children worldwide spend a combined 200 million hours transporting water.
“African women may walk over six kilometres per day in search of water, spending as much as eight hours collecting water. In most countries, girls often are given the task of collecting water, carrying 15 to 20 litres of water from the water point home. Access to water and sanitation is therefore related to the time that girls need to attend school, and can be the reason why they are kept out of school. In many developing countries, furthermore, girls are often not permitted to attend schools that do not have latrines out of concern for their privacy and modesty. Therefore, access to fresh water and sanitation does not only improve the health of a family, but it also provides an opportunity for girls to go to school, and for women to use their time more productively than in fetching water.” UN Commission on Social Development.
The Transport Counter-Revolution
The dawn of the 21st Century brought with it a rebirth of a 19th Century technology and an urgency to respond to the consumptive excesses of the 20th Century. If alternative energy technologies achieve anything of socio-strategic value it will be the distribution (the scattering) of energy resources to the four corners of the planet. And, electric vehicles can make access to meaningful transport ubiquitous. The 21st Century can witness the energisation of the energy-less, the “democratisation of energy”. Subsistence will give way to productivity, knowledge, communication, commerce, education, better health, equalised opportunity, leisure time.
“The new era will bring with it a reorganization of power relationships across every level of society. While the fossil fuel-based First and Second Industrial Revolutions scaled vertically and favored centralized, top-down organizational structures operating in markets, the Third Industrial Revolution is organized nodally, scales laterally, and favors distributed and collaborative business practices that work most effectively in networks. The “democratization of energy” has profound implications for how we orchestrate the entirety of human life in the coming century. We are entering the era of “Distributed Capitalism”". The Third Industrial Revolution, Jeremy Rifkin.
Conversely and incongruously, vehicles powered by electricity which are having a difficult time gaining traction in the Developed World can be a natural beast of burden when “First Mile” transport is required in the Under Developed World. Electric vehicles powered by electricity which has been harvested from the sun, the wind, biomass, a river, e.t.c. can transport, haul, carry, move and roll the crucial 6 to 10 kilometres between village and roadside, village and river, village and farmland, village and medical clinic, village and school. Water gets to village, goods get to market, people get to work, children get to school, the sick get to hospital.
In remote regions, the advantages of electric vehicles far outweigh their disadvantages. In contrast to refined oil and biofuels which have to be transported in, electric vehicles can be fuelled in situ. The single dominant advantage of an electric vehicle is the universal potential to generate electricity as transport fuel. Electric motors can outperform all combustion engine technologies in terms of efficiency, torque and power. Electric vehicles are simpler to drive and maintain than internal combustion engined vehicles. An electric vehicle can have fewer parts and require less servicing than an internal combustion engined vehicle. In remote regions, a broken gearbox or transmission, a boiling radiator or contaminated diesel can park a vehicle for months. An electric vehicle’s only critical components are motors and batteries. Motors can operate for 500,000 kilometres between servicing. Poor battery density and short battery life are the only disadvantages of an electric vehicle. But, these disadvantages are being steadily diminished by advances in energy storage technology and the evolution of new forms of electrical transmission.
The First Mile
Over 70% of people in South Asia and 66% of people in Africa dwell in rural areas.
“By far the majority of transport and travel activity in sub-Saharan African countries occurs in rural areas. The greater part of transport in rural areas — in terms of both distances and amounts carried — is usually off-road. Almost all this transport, in turn, is non-motorized — in fact, nonwheeled — and dominated by head-carrying by women and children of loads of up to 30 kg.” Intermediate Means of Transport In Sub-Saharan Africa, John D. N. Riverson and Steve Carapetis, The World Bank.
In Burkina Faso about 60 % of the villages are more than 3 kilometres away from a main road. Villagers must haul their produce to local markets with the least mobile arriving last, losing competitiveness to earlier sellers with product degraded by the long and arduous journey. (Office of the United States Trade Representative).
“Based on carrying, each day, two head loads of approximately 30 kg over an average distance of 5 km, it would require 15 person-days to move cocoa (900 kg/ha), and 167 person days to move cassava and palm fruits (10,000 kg/ha) from a 1-hectare (1-ha) field to a nearby village or the roadside” Riverson & Carapetis.
Water is carried, on average, a distance of 6kms and crops are carried (“head delivery”) on average 4kms to main road collection points. Additionally, as distance from home increases, it becomes increasingly impractical to cultivate land. Walking to work in fields which are 4kms from home diverts precious energy and reduces work time by 25%.
Why an Electric Transporter?
The purpose of the Eridanos Project is to replace the “first mile” (i.e. up to 10kms) human transport of water, crops, food, school children and labour with energy efficient and time saving transport solutions.
The Eridanos Transporter can replace the daily haulage work of 15 women and cut the time involved from over 3 hours to less than 30 minutes. It can do the work of 10 head delivery hauliers moving 900Kg cocoa from field to roadside and reduce total trips from 30 to 3. It can make the cultivation of land up to 10km from home feasible.
A Vehicle for the Under Developed World
With the exception of South Africa, African, South Asian and South East Asian vehicle markets (though they are home to 3 billion people) are of little consequence to the major vehicle manufacturers who target the bulk of vehicle design and production at buyers who have available credit and roads to drive upon. When vehicles are built to “off road” specification they are directed at a leisure market and are among the most expensive produced. The challenge therefore is to build a practical utility vehicle at a cost that will ensure it is deployed where needed regardless of purchasing power.
The Eridanos Transporter must be tough enough to survive the considerable stresses of African and Asian terrain and climate. It must be simple enough to be serviced and repaired at the roadside or in the fields. It must avoid any components or appendages that are unnecessary, require excessive maintenance, are vulnerable to the elements, or add excessive costs to the vehicle’s delivery price. The Eridanos must be “fit for purpose”.
The Eridanos Transporter is designed to move African and Asian villages and communities from subsistence agriculture and all family hard labour to market participation and some family leisure time. Alleviating simple but debilitating manual work will allow women to become more active in the economy of the village and to spend more time being educated and in educating their children. Children will have greater opportunity to attend school and to be children. Men, women and children will move from hand to mouth survival to a better quality of life.
Given the purpose of the project, “First Mile” criteria are not seriously hindered by battery range or recharge times.
Assume that the Eridanos Transporter is driven hard over unforgiving terrain and carries a heavy payload for 60% of its working day. A peak electricity consumption of 25kWh per 100km (or 0.25kWh per km) can be assumed. Some water ferrying runs, a couple of trips to deliver produce and a school run, involving a combined distance of 50km, will consume 13kWh. A round trip of 12km (50% of journey laden) will at most consume about 3kW/h electricity. Generating this electricity will not tax alternative energy generating technologies (e.g. Solar PV, CSP, Biogas or wind) unduly. The weight of batteries to store this much electricity will range from 100kgs with standard Lead Acid to less than 20kg for today’s most advanced battery technologies. The batteries can be swapped between trips. Batteries on standby can be charged for the next run. Energy storage and distribution technologies are advancing rapidly with the promise of higher densities, greater distances and lower costs. By the time the first Eridanos is “road ready” in 2013, we anticipate some further energy storage and energy transmission advances and lower costs.
The Eridanos project (and eco-village projects generally) will need international support and some good fortune. It does, however, present an excellent opportunity for inventors, academics, universities, electric vehicle component developers, schools, NGOs, e.t.c. to test and assess the performance, durability, practicality and efficiency of a range of alternative energy technologies over time in “the waters and the wild”.