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Kenya: Electric bus startup charting path to zero emissions in transport

Workers at Opibus, Nairobi Kenya   -  
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In Kenya, a startup company called Opibus is chartering an ambitious path to achieving a zero emissions public transportation system.

The company is on a mission to refit electric engines into diesel and petrol buses that have the capacity to travel over 250 kilometres a day on a single charge.

Public service vehicle drivers in the country are excited.

"The price of fuel is very high and you cannot make good money because you use a lot of money on fuel, comparing it with the upcoming electric bus, we will make more money and even the owner of the bus will get a lot of money," says George Moses, a public bus driver who works in Nairobi.

As unrelenting threats of climate change continue to threaten the planet, carbon emissions from vehicles still remain one of the biggest problems.

Africa as a whole is vulnerable to the consequences, yet comparatively, it has overall contributed very little to global warming.

Filip Lovstrom is the Founder of OPIBUS.

"We remove the internal combustion engine, we replace that with an electric motor, and then we put a battery pack and a control unit to it. Which means that suddenly we no longer have to go to the petrol station to fuel our buses or our vehicles with petrol or diesel," he says.

However the cost of refitting a fuel run engine with an electric engine is too high for many owners in the public service vehicle industry.

The cost is approximately 45 thousand US dollars whereas a second hand bus imported into Kenya usually costs about a third less.

Most of the parts for the electric buses also have to be imported into Kenya from Europe adding to the cost of going green.

The Kenyan government is also taxing the electric components used in assembling the electric buses.

With big odds already on the horizon for the company, Silicon Valley Fund At One Ventures has sunk a whopping $7.5 million to fund Opibus, currently Africa's largest electric car manufacturing company.

This will see the electric car company complete the modification of the first 52 passenger vehicle into a fully electric vehicle by December 2021.

Mass productions of over 20,000 others will be rolled out to cover Africa's market by 2023.

"We don't have to look at the cost of fuel every morning as we wake up, but we can actually drive vehicles that reduce the cost of operating so much. That Kenya as a country and us as individuals become independent of oil prices and both on emission side and for our wallets," says Lovstrom.

By modifying the already existing vehicle chassis, Opibus reduces carbon emissions by almost 100% while reducing operational cost by approximately 60% since electric buses will not need costly oil and fuel to keep them on the road.

Although bus drivers believe they could ultimately make more money, the truth of the matter is electric buses are not cheap and the Lithium batteries that help keep the buses moving lose charge by about 2 percent per year.

So within 10 years an electric bus is likely to lose 20 percent of its power, reducing the distance it can travel.

Eventually the Lithium batteries will need a costly replacement and disposing of old Lithium batteries may be another environmental challenge.

Lithium, which is already in high demand, is a finite resource that is mined from the earth adding concerns to what happens when we run out of it.

But for the time being electric vehicles are increasing in popularity and most environmentalists are in favour of it.

As global leaders meet in Glasgow, United Kingdom for United Nation's Climate change dubbed COP26, gaining global consensus from member countries to adhere to reaching net-zero carbon emissions still remains elusive.

Temperatures will continue to rise, leading to more frequent fires, unexpected floods, droughts and heat waves.

According to Pamela Okutoyi, an environmental activist at Eco-mindset, irreversible damage done to the planet by developed countries continue to plague the African continent with droughts, and floods.

"We are coming up with technologies that are helping us conserve our environment, as well as reduce the impact of climate change. And this is a message to the whole world, this is a message to the globe and other countries outside Africa, just to take action as well in their technologies, in what they do," urges Okutoyi.

Okutoyi like many environmentalists around the world is calling for an acceleration of production of electric vehicles in order to "ensure that we have a clean environment, a quiet city and a very efficient system of transport".

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