Meet the Kenyan teacher who turns old laptops into e-bike batteries

Kenyan teacher Paul Waweru has found a novel use for old laptop batteries.
Kenyan teacher Paul Waweru has found a novel use for old laptop batteries. Copyright AP
By Charlotte Elton
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When Kenyan physics teacher Paul Waweru’s electric motorbike stopped working, he couldn’t travel to work. Then he turned to old laptop batteries.

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Your old laptop battery might one day power an electric bike.

When Kenyan physics teacher Paul Waweru’s electric motorbike stopped working, he couldn’t travel to work.

But the amateur inventor came up with an innovative solution: disused computer parts.

“Nobody was selling electric bikes in Kenya, so I had to import one," he explains.

"Then, after a few months, the batteries were no longer working because of the technology. I was again grounded.”

“Through my innovation, I was able to source low-cost batteries and that is how I ended up bumping into laptop batteries."

How do the laptop powered bikes work?

Waweru purchases the old laptop batteries from Nairobi vendors at KSH 50 (€0.37) per piece.

Back at his workshop, he divides the working cells from those which are not working - and creates a battery that can be reused.

The teacher collects frames from old motorbikes, removes the engines and replaces them with a battery and a motor to propel the bike. They run on a 60V direct current.

The batteries usually take hours to charge but can take as little as 45 minutes when using a fast charger. A fully charged battery can travel a distance of up to 100 kilometres.

Waweru says his invention - known as the Ecomobilus bike - is far cheaper and easier to maintain than traditional motorbikes.

"The charging as compared to the fuelling is much, much [more] affordable,” he explains.

“For a full charge, we are saying we are using less than $3 [€2.76] and for the same for the bodabodas [motorbike taxis], they end up spending more than $7 [€6.44] a day to run the same bike.”

Electric bikes are saving Kenyan delivery drivers money

Waweru has founded a company called Ecomobilus to supply his laptop-battery powered bikes.

They are being used around the city by couriers and delivery drivers. Some say they are saving money since ditching petrol (gas) fuelled bikes for these electric versions.

"The other one was expensive in terms of fuel but with the electric one… it is efficient, I save on fuel - I do not use fuel anymore. I only consume [KSH] 200 (€1.48) on [electricity charging tokens] tokens and am good for the rest of the day," says driver John Mwangi.

He has been using the bike for around six months.

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Right: Canva, Left: AP
Electric bikes are better for the planet than gas alternatives.Right: Canva, Left: AP

Are electric bikes better for the planet than motorbikes?

The transport sector accounts for a quarter of global fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions, with half coming from private vehicles, including passenger cars and trucks.

Electric vehicles help reduce this massive pollution output - and reduce toxic air pollution spewed out by fossil-fuel run cars.

The Ecomobilus bikes have several environmental benefits, explains electric mobility specialist Dennis Wakaba.

"[With the electric bike] you save the processes that are involved in the manufacture, assembly and shipping of new batteries. So, definitely, you are saving a lot of emissions coming from these processes," he says.

Using recycled batteries to convert motorcycles also increases the availability of electric bikes in Kenya, Wakaba adds. "We are going now to reduce air pollution, through tailpipe emissions from internal combustion engines, which now don't have to be bought.”

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Not only do they help the environment, the batteries are easy to source in Kenya, so they are a long term option for residents who need to get around.

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