Electrification of motorcycle taxis in Kampala, Uganda shows the benefits of air pollution

In a new study from the University of Michigan, researchers set out to understand the impacts of air pollutant emissions from electrified motorcycle taxis in Kampala, Uganda.

The results indicate that electrified motorcycles can reduce emissions of global air pollutants and some local pollutants, providing global and potentially local sustainability benefits.

Air pollutants affect human well-being and the climate. People living in low- and middle-income countries, or LMICs, in particular, face poor air quality due to rapid urbanization.

There are millions of motorcycles in low- and middle-income countries, but little research has been done on the consequences of their electrification. A group of researchers led by Michael Craig, an assistant professor of energy systems at the UM School for Environment and Sustainability, set out to fill that gap.

Their study is published in the journal Transportation Research Part D: Transportation and the Environment.

“The transport sector is a major emitter of global and local pollutants in LMICs, and motorcycles make up a large part of the transport sector in these countries,” Craig said.

“Electrification is a key transport decarbonization strategy, but little research has examined how electrifying motorcycles in LMICs would bring local or global sustainability benefits. To understand how we can achieve these benefits, we partnered to Zembo (electric motorbike taxi company) to fill this gap.”

In Kampala, Uganda, hundreds of thousands of motorbikes travel the roads, tens of thousands of which act as taxis, or “boda bodas”. These motorcycles contribute to dangerous levels of air pollution that frequently exceed levels deemed safe for humans by the World Health Organization.

In response to growing concerns about air pollution, cities across sub-Saharan Africa have pushed to adopt electric motorcycles, with Rwanda even considering banning gasoline-powered motorcycles.

In this study, UM researchers combined real-world travel and charging

ng data from motorbike taxis in Kampala with computer models of Uganda’s electrical system. Using this empirical approach, the researchers quantified the emissions of conventional and electric motorcycle taxis, then compared the two to quantify the benefits of electrification.

The results show that replacing traditional gasoline-powered motorcycles with electric motorcycles reduces some air pollutant emissions and increases others due to the fuels used to generate electricity in Uganda.

Yet electrification could have health benefits by shifting emissions away from population centers. Although emissions impacts vary depending on hydropower generation throughout the year, the study found that electrifying motorcycle taxis reduced annual carbon dioxide emissions by 36%, 90% carbon monoxide, 58% nitrogen oxide and 99% hydrocarbons.

Conversely, electrification increased annual emissions of sulfur oxides by 870%, particulate matter 10 (PM10) by 109% and particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5) by 97%.

“PRITIs must be part of the solution to combat climate change,” Craig said. “Our research indicates that electrifying motorcycle taxis in Uganda can have global climate benefits while potentially producing local air quality benefits. A better understanding of the global and local benefits associated with transport electrification in Kampala and other LMICs is key to guiding investments.

The other authors of the study are: Max Vanatta of the College of Engineering and Center for Sustainable Systems; Bhavesh Rathod of the UM School for Environment and Sustainability; Jacob Calzavara of the School for Environment and Sustainability, Ross School of Business, Erb Institute and Center for Sustainable Systems; Herek Clack and Teanna Sims of UM College of Engineering; Pamela Jagger of the School for Environment and Sustainability. Étienne Saint-Sernin, co-founder of Zembo Electric Motorcycles; and Thomas Courtright, independent researcher;

The work was made possible by a Graham Catalyst grant.

About Frances R. Smith

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