Imagine a city of millions of people, one where cars are unaffordable, and the cheapest means of personal transport, for business and leisure, are motor scooters; all belching out pollutants and particulates.
Now, imagine that same city, where all those millions of scooters are powered by clean, solar-powered electric engines; and what if those silent, maintenance-free, scooter engines were built by a 3D printer – same city, different world.
That’s the dream of researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University who are looking to help solve India's pollution problems with a 3D-printed eco scooter.
Get your motor running, head out on the highway…
Professor Mohamed Emad Farrag has received funding from the Royal Academy of Engineering to design and develop a prototype of an electric scooter, which will use a compact 3D-printed electric motor – powered by a solar battery.
The need for a more eco-friendly scooter industry in India was identified through discussions between GCU's SMART Technology Centre and India’s Vellore Institute of Technology, which will be a project partner.
Professor Farrag says: "Air pollution, particularly in the form of particulate matter, which is the sum of all solid and liquid particles suspended in air, is a serious challenge in India, and transportation is a significant factor in the nation's air-quality problems.
"India was home to 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world in 2020. About 20% of the CO₂ emissions and 30% of particulate emissions in India are due to two-wheeled vehicles. The government has raised the prices of petrol-driven two-wheelers by 7-15%. This has driven automakers toward electric variants. The volume of sales in the Indian electric two-wheeler industry is expected to massively increase from 152,000 in 2021 to 1.08 million units in 2025."
Originally importing scooters from Italy, then Asia, the demand for cheap personal transport in India has seen the country develop its own domestic manufacturing base. Now, the ambition is to transition that polluting industry towards a greener, cleaner future.
The ideas exchange
Professor Farrag says: “The idea of combining the development of an electric motor with 3D printing came from our Indian colleagues, as a solution to their sharp increase in two and three-wheeled transportation. We discussed what could be beneficial to communities and the public if 3D printing is used, then this idea came along.”
Originally from Egypt, Professor Farrag believes such international cooperation and knowledge exchange are crucial to solving our global problems.
He says: “EU countries, although they have the same environmental issues, are already facing those challenges; that is taken for granted in the EU. Sometimes governments and the public in developing countries tend to cover their eyes on issues or concerns, especially those related to climate change.
“Without ideas exchanges with our international colleagues, every one of us would stay local and lose international element to our research and impacts."
"Internationalisation in engineering is no exception, it is adding a new dimension to explore real scenarios in different contexts, this enriches both sides' knowledge.
“We are already exchanging knowledge on different platforms with our Indian colleagues, and GCU is preparing for staff exchanges, Ph.D. supervision and moderation.”
Solar power to the people
In India, Professor Farrag envisions a network of public and home charging points, all powered by solar energy.
“To make this a reliable way of income generation for SMEs and families, small scale charging hubs will be an optimum solution, considering the geographical dispersal and high-density population in India.”
This is far from GCU’s first international collaboration, the university already has satellite campuses, and degree awarding status, in both London and New York.
The potential for the ‘printed’ eco scooters isn’t limited to India.
“The technology is not designed for one country, neither is it a barrier for any country."
Professor Farrag, a keen cyclist, adds: "As we are now building routes for cyclists in Glasgow, like those in the Netherlands - despite how much rain we have! - there will be a day when eco-scooters will lead local transportation. In Scotland, which might be with a different source of energy, like hydrogen for example, but it will come.
“In addition to the great potential positive impacts on public health in using green transportation, particularly in overcrowded areas, the eco-scooter is expected to make life easier for those who cannot afford traditional transportation. People will be more independent in using them, to go shopping, to work or socialising with friends and families. The easiness of getting battery replacement around the corner will help develop secure communities and access to services.”
Printing a cleaner future
As to the future of 3D printing technology, Professor Farrag has high hopes.
“3D printing is very flexible and allows designers and manufacturers to control the speed of their development cycles, it makes for both quick and easy adjustments to both moulds and prototypes, hence customized parts. It is the future.
“Manufacturers are open to the idea of electric vehicles, and electrical drive trains – they see that they have the potential to drive investment.”
Professor Farrag hopes to have a working prototype of the scooter next year, which, he says, will be replenished by a "state-of-the-art smart charger" to increase its battery life.
He adds: “Although I love cycling, I’d like to see myself on an e-scooter in the near future.”