We have seen furniture and handicraft products made out of bamboo. But a group of engineering students had a radically different idea - a bamboo car.
This gave rise to plenty of questions. Is it possible to make a car out of bamboo? Does bamboo have enough strength? Will finishing suffer? The answers to all these questions lie in the bamboo car made by 15 students of Government Engineering College, Barton Hill, Thiruvananthapuram.
The big idea
The bamboo car was the idea of final-year mechanics engineering students of 2018. They took part in the first Shell Eco Marathon Asia organised by oil giant Shell in India, and showcased their car that had three wheels, aluminium chassis, and a body built out of bamboo. It was powered by a small carbureted petrol engine. It aroused the curiosity of many at the event and won the best technical innovation award then.
Abhinav, captain of Team Pravega that built the car, and his teammates had the Shell Eco Marathon in their mind when they decided to modify the bamboo car. They were supported by mechanical department professor Anish K John and professor Raji M from the Bamboo Research Centre. Since they wanted to make an eco-friendly vehicle, they decided to opt for bamboo this time too. The final decision was taken after speaking to several experts and carrying out several studies.
The advantage of bamboo was that it does not pollute the environment much. Besides, even after several years, it can be reused. The bamboo fabric, the team says, is durable, easy to make, is healthier and a more environmentally friendly alternative. The fabric was used for the vehicle after testing its strength at the Central Institute of Plastics Engineering and Technology (CIPET).
Even the chassis was built using bamboo. They chose a variety of bamboo that is strong. It was put through heat treatment. They borrowed tyres and disc brakes of a Shimano cycle. While the front took two tyres, the rear has only one. It has a driving position similar to a go-cart, while a handle, similar to a sport cycle, does the duty of a steering wheel. The rear brakes have to be controlled by the left hand and the accelerator by the right hand. The front brake has to be operated by the legs.
In 2018, the students had used bamboo to make the outer body. But during track race, air pockets posed a big challenge. To overcome this, Abhinav and his team developed a smooth shell combining bamboo fabric and glass fibre. This helped them achieve the strength of carbon fibre and at the same time reduce weight. Bamboo fabric was bought from Rajasthan. The engine was borrowed from a Honda GX35. They converted the carbureted engine into a fuel injected one. The car weights less than 100 kg and has a top speed of 40 kmph. Another highlight of the car is the mileage of 178 kmpl.
Shell Marathon 2019
Even though they took part in the Shell Marathon India 2019 in Bengaluru, they could not complete their race in the track contest. A minor technical snag was the reason. In the contest, they had to cover the 9km track within 23 minutes. However, since they made into the first five after clearing the technical and safety inspection, they got priority for the contest in Asia.
Electric bamboo car
They fixed the snag, converted the car into electric and won the prize this year. The track contest was to be held in Malaysia when the coronavirus pandemic hit the event. However, the organisers gave them the Shell Eco-Marathon Asia Off-Track Award considering their high production quality. The award-giving ceremony was held virtually.
The bamboo car won the best project award in Asia. The award was for the prototype of the electric bamboo car with a prize money of $3,000 (Rs 2,28,954). Abhinav added that Team Pravega is the first team that has built a car prototype with bamboo. "Efforts from 2018 have borne fruit. We also tried to be part of efforts of the college to create products that are both environment and pocket-friendly," he said.