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In order to provide continued global perspective of Transportation related issues, I have asked Andriannah Mbandi to guest-blog about her first-hand experiences in the developing country, Kenya.      – Dave Miller

By Andriannah Mbandi

Most PhD students will tell you that when they look back at their PhD application proposal they are most likely mortified. It is not very different for me. You see, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to propose a vehicle emissions study in five sub-Saharan African cities. Initially I heard the word ‘ambitious’ often enough. I think what they really meant to say was, ‘challenging’, although they were probably thinking ‘very difficult’. Fast forward 11 months later and I have started my field study in Nairobi, Kenya. That initial proposal has undergone many changes, I hope for the better, but for sure it is tempered with a dose of reality!

The start of the field study in September, 2014 afforded me the opportunity to present and demonstrate techniques for vehicle emissions measurement at a United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) sponsored Partnership workshops for Clean Fuels and Vehicles (PCFV). These workshops in six East African countries provided a rare opportunity that most researchers do not get: a chance to engage with policy makers and key stakeholders right at the start of field studies. We launched a toolkit that supports developing countries in combining vehicle emission standards with complementary fuel quality standards. This approach should bring clean fuels and vehicles into African cities, and thereby help to tackle air pollution.

There is now the promise of real progress. East Africa is looking to harmonize fuel standards in January, 2015[1]. This will improve fuel quality in the East African countries that I am studying. However, vehicle standards are still lacking. A large proportion of the vehicle fleet in East Africa is old and poorly maintained, and the import of second hand vehicles has soared. There is no harmonized age limit restriction for vehicles import. Moreover, East African countries have also seen a rapid increase in ‘bodaboda’ (motorcycles used for public transport). Bodabodas are notoriously unsafe, and their 2-stroke engine design means that they are very dirty. One such engine produces particulate matter (PM) emissions equivalent to one diesel-powered bus or truck and 10 times more hydrocarbon (HC) emission than a single gasoline-powered car[2].

Another part of the challenge is monitoring and measuring vehicle emissions in the region. This is especially important for heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks and buses, which ferry goods and people across borders to service neighbouring landlocked countries Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda. Portable emissions measurement systems (PEMS) can provide an easier means of monitoring on-road emissions. They could be part of the solution for obtaining quality assured vehicle emission data in East Africa. Policy makers there have voiced the need for these data in order to make evidence based policy. There is a clear demand for reliable, portable instrumentation to measure PM[3]. But it needs to be easy to use, economical, light, precise, easy to calibrate, robust and have a long battery life. As vehicle fleets and emissions continue to grow in developing countries, this monitoring equipment will be sorely needed to provide the evidence for policy makers to intervene.

As for my ‘ambitious’ study. Well, the challenging logistics of carrying out a vehicle emissions study in five cities in the sub-Saharan African region has been solved. I have chosen instead to carry out the study in two cities at first and, if time allows, expand the study to other cities. Now if all my research challenges were that easy to overcome!

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Figure 1: Bodaboda used as public transport

About the blogger:
Andriannah Mbandi is a second year PhD student at University of York where she is a faculty for the Future fellow. She graduated with a Masters in Chemical engineering in 2009, and is now doing her PhD at Stockholm Environment Institute on, “Assessing the contribution of road transport emissions to air pollution in sub-Saharan African cities”.
Any views or opinions expressed in her blog are her own. In her spare time she is to be found peering down exhausts pipes, reading sci-fi books and dreaming of space travel.