By Derek Markham │TreeHugger│4 min
‘Tis far less resource-intensive to convert conventional bikes to ebikes. If only there were more affordable options, like this one, on the market.
The future of clean transport is an electric one, as electric drivetrains are efficient and non-polluting (at the point of use), and it’s exciting to see so many companies pursuing their own visions for electric mobility solutions, from electric skateboards to ebikes to electric cars. Although the source of the electricity powering these vehicles is the deciding factor of whether or not they’re truly emissions-free, the fact that electric motors don’t emit any noxious fumes or gases while in use is a big advantage when it comes to reducing transport-related air pollution, and when compared to the poor energy conversion rate of gas cars (about 17%-21% of the energy in gas actually powers the wheels), electric vehicles are head and shoulders above, with a grid-to-wheels efficiency rate of 59%-62%.
The Case for Retrofitting
However, that’s only part of the equation, as any new product has its own demand for materials and resources for manufacturing and servicing, and electric vehicles of all kinds are no different. And while our ability to recycle, repurpose, and reuse materials is improving, that sort of resource recapturing is mostly done after the fact, when a product has reached the end of its useful life. A more logical approach might be to retrofit existing products with higher-efficiency add-ons, and those that make a device much more usable by more people, which is why I see the current wave of e-bike conversion products as worthy endeavors (if only they weren’t so costly).
A Swedish technology firm, Semcon, has developed just such a product, which can be used to turn just about any bicycle into an electric-assist bike, at an estimated cost of about €100. There’s just one hitch – it isn’t for sale. Yet. But with any luck, some forward-thinking investors will put one of the most potent motive forces in history (money) behind it, and bring a low-cost electric mobility add-on to the market.
“The needs and wishes of the typical cyclist are what got us started. The benefits of the electrified bike are obvious, but existing solutions are expensive and complex. That’s why we developed an engine which is compatible with any bike and easily shared among friends and family.” – Anders Sundin, Technical Director at Semcon
Semcon “Smart Engine”
The Semcon “smart engine” prototype relies on a decidedly low-tech method of getting the power to the wheel, namely friction, with a rear-facing 150W electric drive attachment secured to the seat tube that helps to spin the rear wheel. Also attached to the seat tube, although this time facing into the front triangle of the frame, is a removable battery pack, which Semcon didn’t specify the range of. According to the company, the electric drive system includes a “small computer” that could foreseeably run anti-theft or tracking applications, and the ‘smart’ engine adjusts its output to match the rider’s pedaling, actively assisting the cyclist at speeds between 7 and 25 kmh. Semcon says the device weighs in at just a bit more than a kilogram (1102g), but doesn’t state specifically whether or not that includes the weight of the battery.
The Semcon electric drive system looks to be easily swappable between bikes, as it is merely mounted to the seat tube, and not integrated into the frame or the wheels, with no external controls to install or remove. It’s a simple solution, and one that could make electric mobility a bit more accessible, assuming it will be developed and get to market for anywhere near the claimed $100 cost. There are some issues with friction-type drive motors, most notably the potential wear on the surface of the tire, as well as any drag from the drive unit on the wheel at lower speeds (when the motor isn’t running), not to mention the possible weak point of needing to get the device mounted at the optimum spot on the bike frame for maximum efficiency, and the question of whether the device will work as well on skinny tires as with fat tires.
Nevertheless, this looks to be a promising direction for electric mobility add-ons, capable of turning a garage-bound older bike into a daily rider, just because of its ability to add oomph to the rider’s ability (and maybe reduce the ‘sweat factor’ of bicycling). If you’re an investor looking to make some inroads into the future of transportation, you might want to take a look at Semcon’s device and see if it’s up your alley, so to speak, as it sounds like they’re looking for some capital to bring it to market.