Colorado State Leading Collaboration to Drastically Reduce Air Pollution in Manila by Upgrading Dirty Engines with New Technology

Harmful emissions are so concentrated in Manila that many citizens wear masks and walk through the city with rags held to their noses and mouths to filter the pollution. The World Bank estimates that particulate emissions alone result in more than 2,000 premature deaths, 9,000 cases of severe respiratory illness and over $420 million of associated economic losses in Manila every year. In response to these issues, Colorado State University is engineering solutions for Manila’s air pollution problems.

A tricycle from Manila undergoing conversion at Colorado State's Engines Lab.Colorado State engineering professor Bryan Willson is leading a collaboration with the Partnership for Clean Air, an umbrella organization of more than 100 government, development and environmental agencies in Manila, to drastically reduce the city’s air pollution caused by more than 250,000 motorized tricycles powered by smoky two-stroke cycle engines. The Manila Clean 2-Stroke Project will be launched at the National Transport Day Celebration on June 1 in Philippines’ National Stadium at a rally of 40,000 tricycle drivers.

"Two-stroke engines are recognized as a primary contributor to pollution and health problems in the Philippines and many developing nations, but the vehicles powered by these engines are also a key to business and social structure," said Willson, founder and research director of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State. "To address the Philippine government’s desire to reduce vehicle pollution and citizen desires to keep tricycles legal, we are adapting direct-injection technology for retrofit on the existing two-stroke engines in Manila."

Colorado State’s approach could reduce harmful emissions from two-stroke engines by up to 90 percent, reduce fuel consumption by one-third and has the potential of dramatically reducing air pollution in many other developing nations.

A tricycle from Manila undergoing conversion at Colorado State's Engines Lab.Philippine President Gloria Arroyo is scheduled to be at National Transport Day and will meet with Willson and the Colorado State project team that includes mechanical engineering graduate students Tim Bauer, Nathan Lorenz and Horizon Briggs; mechanical engineering Professor Allan Kirkpatrick; and business Professor Paul Hudnut.

The United Nations Environmental Program has singled out two-stroke engines and diesel engines as primary contributors to the Asian brown cloud, a layer of particulate pollution that is one mile deep and roughly the size of the United States, which now covers South Asia.

"In the developed world, nearly all vehicles are powered by cleaner four-stroke engines. However, in developing nations, two-strokes are favored for personal transportation due to their low cost, durability and high power-to-weight ratio," said Lorenz. "Unfortunately, the simple two-stroke engine has so much pollution that one small tricycle may produce the same amount of pollution as 30 to 50 modern automobiles. The 250,000 tricycles in Manila contribute pollution equivalent to 10 million Honda Accords."

Throughout Asia, two-stroke vehicles create the pollution equivalent of 2 billion to 5 billion Honda Accords.

The Colorado State team’s plan to reduce pollution in Manila is to remove the standard carburetors on two-stroke engines and replace them with direct injection systems. Similar technology has been used for over 50 years on large two-stroke engines that power the natural gas pipeline system in the United States. Two years ago, a team of Colorado State students used the same direct-injection approach to reduce pollution from snowmobile engines, winning a number of national awards and ultimately attracting the attention of environmental officials in Manila, leading to the Manila Clean 2-Stroke Project.

"The technology is well proven. The primary challenge is reducing the cost of the technology and defining a workable strategy for widespread implementation," said Willson. "The tricycle drivers have little money and little access to credit, so traditional businesses have not been attracted to the market."

Tricycles parked along a street in Manila.To address these obstacles, students Bauer and Lorenz are working with professor Hudnut to develop a business plan for an organization that would facilitate widespread dissemination of the technology.

"Retrofitting direct-injection technology onto two-stroke engines used in the developing world is potentially one of the most cost-effective ways of improving air quality in urban areas," said Bauer. "The retrofit cost is approximately $150-$200 per conversion. Retrofitting all of Manila’s two stroke tricycles would have a one time cost between $35 million and $50 million, but would save the city a large portion of the $430 million per year in costs currently incurred due to its air pollution problems."

Hudnut added that one of the big challenges is to pull together various sources of funding to allow large-scale implementation of the technology in Southeast Asia. "We believe that the project’s success will depend on a blend of support from governments, environmental organizations, micro-credit bankers, private investors and the tricycle drivers," he said. "It is a very exciting entrepreneurial opportunity."

Phase I of the project involves demonstration of a single tricycle. A tricycle from Manila has been shipped to the Engines Laboratory at Colorado State and is currently undergoing conversion. Conversion components are being fabricated in the Philippines, United States and Australia. After testing in the United States, the Phase I tricycle will be delivered to Manila by Christmas. Funding for Phase I has been provided by a foundation in the Philippines, private donors in the United States and by Colorado State, with technical support provided by the Orbital Engine Company of Australia.

Phase II will include retrofitting 10-15 tricycles and monitoring emissions and fuel consumption in Manila for one year to demonstrate in-use emissions, fuel consumption and reliability. During this time the consortium will finalize the full implementation plan, which is Phase III of the project. Willson hopes that widespread retrofitting of two-strokes in Manila could begin in early 2005.

Although the application of direct injection technology to tricycles is new, the approach builds on a history of research on two-stroke engines at Colorado State’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory. Willson and his students have been conducting research on two-stroke cycle engines for the past 10 years on engines ranging from the tiny engines that power chainsaws to the massive two-stroke engines that power the natural gas pipeline system. Colorado State operates the only lab with this comprehensive range of two-stroke research.

"More than a decade of research on large two-stroke engines for the pipeline industry has built a strong technical base in two-stroke engines and allowed Colorado State to build one of the most advanced engine research laboratories in the United States," said Willson. "We now have the opportunity to use this accumulated knowledge to address international problems. We are addressing problems and creating solutions that will help people and nations that would otherwise not have access to this advanced technology and engineering expertise."

Applications of the technology are not confined to Asia. Recently, an Environmental Ministry in western Africa has approached Colorado State and the U.S. Department of State about a potential retrofit project in Africa. The project request is under review.