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Sustain to gain: March 2011 Archives

Here I pose a question to all the talented students in technology and business who actually want to change something - how can the lungs saved of the myriads of people living along congested and dirty roads, urban and rural, breathing in diesel exhaust only slightly diluted by air?

Here is the story: Kolkata, 2nd largest city of India, is a lively, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes exhausting city full of people and experiences. Taking a ride in the direct hinterland of Kolkata, we could discover a full Th√ľnen-like structure moving radially from the city center. First, vegetables were grown, further outward came a leather factory, then fish farming, and then subsidence fishing in the Sunderban swamp land - competing for scarce resources with man-hunting tigers (or so the local tourist board claims). People live directly along this road and populate the street with their petty markets and social exchanges. Cars come not in crowds, but fight their way through people, rickshaws and three-wheelers - loudly honking. A high proportion of these cars, unfortunately, is of old vintage and dirty technology, emitting corresponding amounts of toxic particles, like PMs, SO2, etc. The same is true for most motorized three-wheelers: Many are powered by cheap Chinese water diesel pumps - an equally ingenious and polluting solution. While in average negligible in rural areas, air polluting particles are emitted exactly where people breathe air - i.e. intake fraction is high. Reduced life quality, not to speak about life expectancy is a clear-cut consequence. Not to mention: air quality along squattered streets in urban Kolkata is worse. However, telling the story, I want to highlight that this is not only an urban problem.

Now the point is: this micro-local pollution is produced by a relatively small number of vehicles. Hence, having cleaner vehicles would improve livelihood of millions of people. Also, clean and gas-saving* vehicles may also be a good long-term investment if oil prices are high. Of course, the constraint is that monetary resources only allow for extremely short-term time horizons - meaning low possible investment with fast pay-back but low in magnitude. So the precise task is: Find a viable business model to deliver clean & low-carbon vehicle technologies! Average costs per person km (not vehicle km) should not exceed $0.02 at most, and the solution should comprise both technology and business model. What are your ideas? Please send in, and I will be happy to blog them with attribution on this side!

  • clean and gas-saving (low-carbon) are technically two different options for two different problems, local and global air pollution. However, why not tackle both issues simultaneously if there is the chance?