Kenyan physics teacher Paul Waweru has been helping local delivery drivers save money, raising sustainability awareness, and cutting emissions in the process. All routing from a humble cheap piece of old tech that can be found at almost any used store or dump across the globe. In his native Kenya, these things are easy to source and are becoming a long-term option for mobility - these are laptop batteries.
Not only do they help the environment, but the batteries are also easy to source in Kenya, so they are a long-term option for residents who need to get around.
To think that one day your old laptop may be discarded, and have its battery stripped out and divided in a way that can be remodelled to fit to and power an e-bike may have been unthinkable before, but now your old laptop battery can be used just for this purpose.
It all started when Mr Waweru’s electric motorbike ran into problems and stopped working, preventing him from travelling to work. So as a keen amateur inventor, he came up with a novel solution to best use disused laptop batteries.
He explained some of his thoughts and frustrations leading up to his breakthrough: “Nobody was selling electric bikes in Kenya, so I had to import one. Then, after a few months, the batteries were no longer working because of the technology. I was again grounded. Through my innovation, I was able to source low-cost batteries and that is how I ended up bumping into laptop batteries."
So how do laptop batteries work on an e-bike?
First, Waweru purchases the old laptop batteries from local vendors in Nairobi at around 0.40 USD. Then using his smarts back at his workshop, he divides the remaining cells that work from those that no longer function - creating a reusable battery.
The newly-formed batteries can be fully charged in as little as 45 minutes, much quicker than in their original form, and can power a journey up to a distance of around 100km.
Waweru also collects frames from old motorbikes and replaces the original engines with a battery and a motor, running on a 60V direct current.
His invention, the Ecomobilus bike, is far cheaper and easier to run and maintain than traditional motorbikes.
"The charging as compared to the fuelling is much, much more affordable,” he explains.
“For a full charge, we are saying we are using less than $3 [€2.76] and for the same for the bodabodas - Kenyan motorbike taxis, they end up spending more than $7 [€6.44] a day to run the same bike.”
Waweru has founded a company called Ecomobilus to supply his laptop-battery-powered bikes, which it turns out to have also been saving Kenyan delivery drivers money as they are saving money staying away from gas refuelling.
One driver, John Mwangi, who’s been using the Ecomobilus for 6 months says, “The other one was expensive in terms of fuel but with the electric one… it is efficient, I save on fuel - I do not use fuel anymore. I only consume [KSH] 200 (€1.48) on tokens and am good for the rest of the day.”
The transport sector produces a quarter of global fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions, half of which comes from privately owned vehicles, including cars and trucks. Electric vehicles assist in reducing this massive pollution output - and reduce toxic air pollution produced by their fossil fuel counterparts. His electric bike can also be charged using solar energy, which promotes clean energy and climate conservation.
His invention is also set to take off after Kenya Power announced plans to set up charging points at different locations countrywide. Kenya Power applied for a new special tariff stipulating new charges for customers using electric vehicles.
Managing Director Geoffrey Muli explained that the new venture would increase its customer base and raise revenue for the struggling entity.
With the increasing demand, Waweru intends to increase production, which will also help the country tackle fuel shortages.
Old laptop batteries can power a variety of traditional gas powered bikes. Photo credit: Ecomobilus.
A reformed battery using the working cells from a laptop battery. Photo credit: Ecomobilus.