CNG Rickshaws Arrive in Karachi

Posted on December 3, 2006
Filed Under >Bilal Zuberi, Economy & Development, Environment, Science and Technology, Society
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Bilal Zuberi

ATP has been in awe of the 3-wheeler Rickshaw experience for a long time (see here, here and here). If you have been in a rickshaw, you will certainly remember them being really loud, – but that is not the only form of pollution they emit. Rickshaws are extremely polluting in the atmposphere, spewing out sooty smoke and toxic gases. Most rickshaws burn tons of oil in the combustion process, which sends not just oil and smoke into the air, but also large quantities of toxic metallic particles (ash) which come from components of lubricant oil.

Health effects of particulate pollution are well understood. Soot gets lodged deep inside the lungs, in the sensitive alveoli tissue, which leads to a buildup of scar tissue buildup and and eventual respiratory problems. Soot can lead to chronic bronchitis and asthma, and it has also been shown to act as a carrier of carcinogenic compounds, such as poly aromatic hydrocarbons into the body. All in all, particulate pollution from engines is really bad for our health and rickshaws are among the worst polluters in Pakistan.

But all that may be set to change now. Thanks to some governmet regulations and some other incentive schemes, it is expected that all gasoline powered (usually 2-stroke) rickshaws in Karachi will switch to CNG powered rickshaws. Similar changes are also happening across the border in India, especially in larger cities. One such CNG rickshaw was recently spotted in Karachi and pictures are shown here.

Due to the specific nature of combustion, and the fuels used, these CNG powered rickshaws are expected to emit much less black soot, carbon monoxide and unburnt hydrocarbon gases, and are hence considered much cleaner for the environment. Some new research has shown that CNG engines sometimes emit lots more nanoparticles, which are harder to detect but can be even more toxic than soot, but at least for now the visible soot and other gaseous emissions from this mode of transportation will be lower. These new rickshaws are also expected to be extremely quiet and given the price of CNG, they are also expected to be cheaper to operate.

According to a 2000 estimate, there are more than 100,000 rickshaws in Pakistan. I hope most rickshaw operators will quickly shift to the new engines. I, for one, am looking forward to a ride in one of these pretty soon.

All in all, it is a positive step forward in cleaning up our urban air, even as I worry that in a few years we will need to worry about additional emissions control technologies on these rickshaws, especially if they are not maintained properly. Operators of the previous generation of rickshaws had started to mix more than 12.5% of lubricant oil with gasoline (due to ignorance among the mechanics) even though manufacturers recommended not more than 2%. This was terrible, leading to excessive oil burning and dirtier exhaust, not to mention the extra noise.

I hope we will not repeat our mistakes, and can keep the CNG rickshaws cleaner and quitier for the next generation of rickshaw riders.

Many thanks to Jamash of Karachi Metblogs for the photograph.

5 responses to “CNG Rickshaws Arrive in Karachi”

  1. Qausainq says:

    pata nahi kion jab bhi main ye CNG Rickshaw dekhta hon, mujhay TATA ki “Nano” yaad a jati hay, dono ki prices main kuch zyda firq nahi hay… lakin behar-haal hum logon ko bohat mehnat karnay ki zarorat hay :/

  2. Yes true what will karachi be without rickety rick, but wait theres a new kid in the block , soon to hit the roads of karachi, to see what it looks like visit , pretty cute looking machines, and yes they have a video entertainment screen in it, a tracker which can be operated from anywhere in the world by a telefone, a steering wheel, disk brakes, ignition start, of course CNG, drivers insurance against accidental death worth Rs.500,000.
    And guess for how much. yup 40k down rest pay as u earn.
    Any comments guys…………….

  3. Shah says:

    Well, sticking to the manufacturer’s recommendations is what needs to be implemented. And the fact that CNG would reduce the emissions is a myth! This is due to several reasons:
    1. Most CNG conversions are awfully faulty, with ever-changing mixture settings. For example ca. 80% conversions restrict the air-inflow by using electric tape! No measurement, no thought or calculation, but according to a totally incorrect gut-feeling. Therefore combustion is highly un-optimized, and on top of that, with variable un-optimization!
    2. In terms of thermal energy, much more GAS is burned than petrol, for the same amount of work.
    3. I think that you would presume that they would not be able to mix oil while using CNG, again a myth, as these engines have and require a separate oil container for the oil that NEEDS to be mixed during the combustion. But the mixing capillaries are enlarged to allow more oil-flow, and with CNG, I bet (because I know) that these are further enlarged!
    4. Noise that the engine emits is a property of that engine, depending on its construction. In Italy (and in Europe in general), these Vespas with the same engine remain in use but emit much less noise. Why? Because everything (including the muffle) is according to manufacturers specifications. So, believing that with burning thermally more CNG than petrol for the same amount of required work would produce less noise is like living in a fool’s paradise!
    The following comment may seem to deviate from the topic but I think that we have dispossessed our culture, and somehow absorb the worse part of the western values and thereby retaining our own cultural bad habits. Then, exactly the same happens with the western products, in that we take them, and while contributing our own two cents to then, fowl them up totally and forget the designer’s rules, and the specification/recommendations of the engineers who realized the products.
    With all these products running fine in the west (also including diesels, but another long discussion), we on the other hand ignore the, already present, western rules (Emission standards, Vehicle fitness check procedures, Traffic rules) and try to design our own, and that too with FEEL, SIGHT, SMELL of it. In-Short, an easy-way all along.
    Koran says it rightly, that “their god is their Nafs!â€

  4. Samdani says:

    I beleiev Bangladesh has already introduced these and they are a success there. This is a good step.

  5. Owais Mughal says:

    Bilal, I would like to see the ‘pick-up’ or ‘torque’ on CNG rickshaws :) Even with petrol it used to be ‘bara-i-naam’. Hopefully it hasn’t gone too low with CNG. Once I was the only passenger in a Karachi rickshaw. I weigh around 200 lbs. The rickshaw driver was quite ‘dhaan paan’ with roughly 130 lbs. There was a strong Karachi trademark sea breeze blowing from the west and our Rickshaw could not climb the ramp of Liaquat Flyover. The rickshaw had to be moved to the side lane and brought down to gear # 1. It was finally able to climb the flyover in first gear. Coming down the flyover, rickshaw driver put the engine in neutral. When I asked him why, he said ‘to save petrol sir-ji’ :) :)

    Rickshaws never cease to amuse me

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