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electric-cars

uYilo launches third round of seed fund to support electric car developers

South African innovators looking to develop electric vehicle components, energy storage or charging solutions have until 31 August to apply to the Yilo Kick Start Fund to get up to R1-million to help fund research and development (R&D) costs.

Hiten Parmar, director of the uYilo eMobility Technology Innovation Programme’s (EMTIP) which administers the fund, said the funding is focused on applied research that will lead to the creation of products, process or services that can be commercialised.

Applicants can apply for either up to R500 000 per project for individual projects or up to R1-million per project for collaborative projects involving multiple participants. For collaborative projects, matched (50:50) co-funding is required.

While Parmar would not disclose the amount available in funding for the current round, he pointed out the fund has held two previous rounds – in 2014/15 and 2015/16. In these seven projects were supported to the tune of R3.8-million from the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) – with three projects backed in the first round and four in the second round.

uYilo has backed seven projects to the tune of R3.5-million through two previous rounds

Applications increased from five in the first round to 23 applications in the second round.

Parmar said the programme did not run a round last year as officials had been busy restructuring deliverables and targets.

Among the seven projects are a mining vehicle battery pack, an open charge point protocol, an integrated hybrid drive system for a 4×4 vehicle and an intelligent battery management system with chargers and drive system for L2 class vehicles.

The uYilo programme was established at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth in 2013 by TIA and aims to stimulate electric mobility (eMobility) technologies in South Africa.

It came about after the closure of the TIA-funded Optimal Energy which at the time had been developing the country’s first electric car. Parmar said the company’s assets, including its four Jewel cars and four other prototypes, were taken over by TIA and then provided to the programme. The cars are used by to do data capturing.

Parmar estimates that South Africa presently has 400 electric cars and about 2000 hybrid cars and just under 100 charging stations.

It may be markedly more affordable to recharge an electric vehicle than fill up a petrol on (about R28, compared to the R500 or more for the latter) Parmar said a key barrier to expanding electric car industry is that the vehicles are costly – chiefly because of the tariff on imported electric car which is set at about 43%.

Charging stations commercialised

Despite this, he said one of the fund’s seven projects — GridCars — has reached commercialisation, with its recharging stations.

GridCars founder Winstone Jordaan said the R500 000 in seed funding his small Pretoria-based company received in the 2014/15 round helped to fund the communication standard the firm developed to allow the chargers to communicate with the back-end of the system. He said the funding was approved within four months.

GridCar, launched in 2009, currently has 41 recharge stations located across the country, located in shopping centres and at private companies. Jordaan estimates that a few hundred drivers with electric cars use the stations, including about 1500 hyrid-car users.

The company generates revenue by selling the recharging points to clients, but Jordaan added that the company is looking at a revenue-sharing model where the firm would help fund the purchase of a point in return for sharing the revenue generated from charging those that use the station.

While users locate the stations using an app, Jordaan said one of the biggest hurdles to expanding the electric car ecosystem is what he called the “misperception” that South Africa has no charging stations.

However he admitted that it is “hard to say” when electric cars take off. What is perhaps missing in the local electric car ecosystem, he said, is a homegrown electric car manufacturing or component manufacturing sector.

While he said some believed that South Africa should be developing batteries for electric cars, he reckons that it is too early to do so, particularly as the cost of developing car batteries can run into hundreds of millions of rands.

Application form and guideline documents are available on the uYilo website and final proposals must be submitted via email to uYilo@mandela.ac.za with the subject 2017/18 Call for proposals – uYilo Kick Start Fund by midday on Thursday 31 August 2017. No late applications will be accepted.