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Electric motorbike innovation may spur mass conversion

09 May 2013

Team FrogWorks: (from right) Yang Xuan, Shreyas, Brian and Aloysius (far left) with supervisors Assoc Prof Henz (2nd from left) and Dr Weigl (3rd from left) and their converted electric motorbike

Brian installing the new Ultra Mount frame onto the motorbike to convert it into an electric vehicle

An innovative design by a group of NUS students that converts a motorcycle's petrol propulsion into one running on electric may potentially mean more green vehicles on the road.

Team FrogWorks, comprising four Year 2 undergraduates from the University Scholars Programme (USP) and Design-Centric Programme at NUS - Brian Teo, Shreyas Rao, Pek Yang Xuan and Aloysius Seah - started on the project last May in collaboration with the Engineering Design and Innovation Centre (EDIC) at the Faculty of Engineering. They successfully converted an original motorcycle in April after half a year's efforts, under the supervision of Associate Professor Martin Henz from USP and Dr Joerg Weigl from EDIC.

The team carried out tests to find the optimum type and number of batteries for the motorbike, finally settling on two lead-acid packs that give 36.7 km mileage per charge. When fitted with their built-from-scratch "Ultra Mount" frame, the conversion of the 10-year-old bike works out to about S$3,500. The simple adaptable frame housing the electric motor, battery packs and a motor controller requires only two mechanics to change a conventional vehicle into an electric one within a day. Large-scale manufacturing and adoption will further bring down the cost and time.

Group member Brian explained that while retrofitting a petrol engine into an electric version is not new, the process involving major overhaul of the system requires technical expertise over several days. With the Ultra Mount frame which took the team nine weeks to design, it is "simple, adjustable and quick to process in a factory setting," he said. The standard parts can be prefabricated and packed in a box for easy installation.

Moreover, the frame allows the engine to be customised according to users' preference by tweaking the battery configuration and controller programming. This promises upgrading to higher horsepower and longer distance in future as needs change.

Calculations by the students show that an average motorcyclist riding about 40 km per day burns approximately S$120 of fuel per month; with the electric motor, the cost will drop to less than S$30. Of even greater significance is the environmental impact. Over its converted eight-year lifespan, the vehicle uses about 70 per cent less energy than a normal motorbike and emits 45 per cent less greenhouse gases. This lifespan includes the production and transportation of the new materials of the electric motorcycle to Singapore. The converted bike also runs quietly, cutting down noise pollution.

The conversion kit can be an attractive green solution for environmentally conscious commuters and governments looking at shifting away from petroleum dependency and committing to a cleaner urban environment. The team is looking for funds to conduct research using more advanced lithium polymer battery packs for greater travel range and higher efficiency.