Envirofit Signs Memorandum of Understanding to Retrofit 3,000-Taxi Fleet in the Philippines

Envirofit International Ltd., a Colorado non-profit corporation that develops and disseminates technologies that reduce pollution and promote energy efficiency in the developing world, has signed its first major agreement   to retrofit 3,000 two-stroke taxi engines in the Philippines with cleaner, more efficient engine technology originated at Colorado State University.

The taxis are in the town of Vigan in the northern province of Ilocos Sur, a community where company officials can closely monitor pollution.

"Vigan is a carefully selected initial site now that test results have proven our retrofitted engines reduce carbon monoxide emissions," said Brock Silvers, chief executive officer of Envirofit, a two-year-old company. Envirofit signed the Memorandum of Understanding last month.

"In Vigan, there are no other major sources of pollution. The community is a manageable size, and we have a very cooperative local government," Silvers said. "If you just retrofitted several thousand taxis in Manila, you wouldn’t see a difference in air quality and you wouldn’t be able to measure that difference because the city is very polluted."

Field tests conducted last year in Manila revealed that engines retrofitted by Envirofit reduced carbon monoxide emissions by 74 percent and hydrocarbon emissions by 89 percent. Hydrocarbon emissions consist of unburnt and partially burnt fuel/oil particles, which are the products of incomplete combustion.

Tests also revealed a 35 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and 50 percent improvement in oil efficiency, which will help convince taxi drivers to buy retrofitted engines, Silvers said.

"Those are crucial statistics because the taxi driver might feel good about reducing carbon monoxide emissions, but he doesn’t get paid for that," Silvers said. "Saving that money in oil and gas enables him to recoup the cost of his retrofit within a year."

Envirofit aims to aims to retrofit up to100,000 engines by the end of 2007, reducing annual emissions by 100,000 tons of carbon dioxide. There are more than 50 million such engines currently being operated in Asia.

"This company was formed to make a difference," said Paul Hudnut, a founder of Envirofit and entrepreneurship professor at the College of Business. "After a lot of hard work, it is really exciting to see Envirofit moving from technology development to market implementation in the Philippines. This is when we will start making a difference by reducing pollution, improving health and helping the local economy."  

While powerful and reliable, two-stroke engines are a major source of air pollution, particularly in the developing world. Such massive global environmental health issues are being tackled in Colorado State University’s Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory, part of the College of Engineering.

In 2002, a team of engines lab students and faculty, under the leadership of Professor Bryan Willson, produced one of the cleanest snowmobile engines ever built, using direct-injection technology. The retrofitted engine reduced pollution by more than 90 percent.

The team’s results attracted the attention of non-government organizations in the Philippines that were looking for solutions to pollution from more than 1.3 million two-stroke tricycles. A tricycle consists of a small, 125 cc-powered motorcycle attached to a covered sidecar. The tricycles are used as taxis and can carry as many as 15 people.

As part of the university’s mission to support research that promotes global health and environmental sustainability, students and faculty created Envirofit to develop the technology into a commercial product to sell in the developing world.

"Envirofit might be an appropriate future vehicle for other similar technologies from within Colorado State to enter into commercial markets," Silvers said.

A major challenge has been how to sell such technology in poor nations.

Envirofit’s project with the city of Vigan required creative financing. Funding comes in part from the Swiss Embassy in the Philippines and the Bohemian Foundation, which awarded Envirofit $500,000 in 2004 for initial field testing in the Philippines. Vigan arranged for low-cost loans to the taxi drivers to pay Envirofit’s retrofit fee.

Engineering researchers in the engines lab worked closely with students and faculty such as Professor Paul Hudnut in the College of Business to help create Envirofit because of the complexity involved in transferring high-tech solutions to developing nations.

Now those colleges have formed a new center with the hope that it will create more companies like Envirofit – companies that license technological advancements created at Colorado State to address the health and welfare of the Third World. The new Global Innovation Center for Energy, Health and the Environment focuses on the developing world’s chronic environmental needs that often do not capture the attention of relief organizations.

Engineering and business students are collaborating on their next project – to develop and market an improved cookstove that reduces indoor air pollution, but also generates electricity for lights while it is being used. In the developing world, indoor air pollution from fuels such as wood and dung is the leading cause of death for children under 5 and the fourth leading cause of premature death for women.