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Study Notes How Use of Electric Motorcycles Reduces Air Pollution in Uganda


The urbanization of developing countries, particularly those on the African continent, runs the danger of increasing harmful emissions in the name of progress. This is particularly true in Kampala in Uganda, where boda-bodas or motorcycle taxis serve as the primary form of transportation for most of its citizens, ferrying them to school or work. 

There are presently tens of thousands of these two-wheeled taxis, on top of the thousands of other motorcycles plying Kampala’s roads, resulting in air pollution rising – often alarmingly so – above the safe levels prescribed by the World Health Organization (WHO.)

A possible solution to this dilemma lies in the electrification of motor vehicles within the sub-Saharan region, resulting in significantly lower amounts of greenhouse gasses emitted into the atmosphere. Researchers at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability seek to address this through a recent study published in the trade journal Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment.

Electrification as a Key Strategy

According to Michael Craig, assistant professor in energy systems at the University of Michigan, very little research has been done regarding the potential environmental impact of electrifying motor vehicles on a wider scale in developing nations. Craig particularly points out how urban transportation is one of the largest contributors to environmental pollution throughout the world, with motorcycle effluvium making up a growing amount of it.

Craig’s team worked with Zembo, a local electric-powered boda-boda company, to gauge the impact of motorcycle pollution in the area to understand the situation in Kampala. To do so, researchers paired actual trip and vehicle charging data from Zembo’s fleet with working models of the Ugandan power system. 

By quantifying emissions from Zembo’s electric-powered taxis and more conventional boda-bodas, they noted that replacing traditional motorcycles with electric vehicles may reduce some pollutants. However, these could also increase other types of pollutants because of the fuels currently being used to generate electric power in the country.

Nevertheless, electrification may still improve health standards as these can remove – or drastically reduce – emissions in densely populated areas. In fact, electrifying boda-bodas may help reduce annual emission levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and hydrocarbons by between 36 and 99%.

But with the process leading to a significant rise in sulfur oxide emissions and particulate matter, it may take some time before a safer way of electrifying public transport can be implemented in Kampala and other African cities.

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