Uganda’s first diesel engine ready to commercialize
What started as a dream by a group of three friends is steadily seeing fruition. Uganda’s first diesel engine is now a reality thanks to a successful public-private partnership between the innovators and Makerere University’s Africa Centre of Excellence for Materials, Product Development and Nanotechnology (MAPRONANO). “We have filed an intellectual property with Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB). It involves Makerere University and MAPRONANO as an entity and Kevoton as the private sector,” explains Prof. John Baptist Kirabira, Centre Leader, MAPRONANO.
Getting started with steam
It all started in 1998 when a group of three friends Rogers Mubiru, Edwin Lukubira and Joseph Mukisa came together to start making a prototype engine using locally available raw materials. A good Samaritan, Twaha Tabula, offered them garage space at his residence on Entebbe Road. With no university education, the trio (who later came to be known as The Trinity) started writing out some sketch notes in a language only known to them.
“We came up with the idea of making engines because an engine is a prime mover. We had challenges in the journey of developing this engine. The raw material was wood for every part of the engine. At first, we decided to use steam because it was the only resource we had. In 2004, we changed some parts of the engine from wood to metal because of the high temperatures that did not work well with wood. We started learning how to cut and mold metal and use it in the engine,” explains Mubiru.
In 2014, the team approached the Mechanical Engineering Department at Makerere University for support and met Prof. John Baptist Kirabira who saw their potential. “They had an idea to make a steam engine that would be run by water turned into steam. The fuel at that time was supposed to be used-oil. So we embarked on a prototype and it worked. At that time, we were using money from the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology from our Center here – the Centre for Technology Design and Development,” narrates Prof. Kirabira. “After some time, we realized that the steam engine was not environmentally friendly. We had to convert to a new design of a diesel engine.” In 2017 Kevoton got registered as a company in Uganda. Henceforth, Makerere University and MAPRONANO interfaced with Kevoton which currently has twelve members.
Involvement of MAPRONANO
In 2019, MAPRONANO moved to support the initiative in a more sustainable manner. They supported the company to furnish their offices, put up a foundry and purchase some equipment.
“There were many partners involved. We at Makerere were the scientists and Kevoton was the private sector. We then involved our fourth year students to do the calculations and computations that are required when casting engine parts. We also involved a masters student to make the calculations. We wanted the computations properly recorded for ease of replication. If you are getting things from the head, making another prototype could be difficult without the computations. All these activities were supported under MAPRONANO and Makerere University,” said Kirabira.
“We have used the support of MAPRONANO quite well to help develop the project further,” said Mubiru. “They have taken us from incubation to commercialization level. We have the ability to produce our products and replace the imported ones. We are now beginning to make our own cars, let us make our own power devices,” he says.
In August 2021, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero, launched the diesel engine at Makerere University with a promise that the government would take up this project.
Status of the diesel engine and target sectors
The team has designed and prototyped nine engines ranging from wooden External Combustion Steam Engine (Single ATVON 1-5 series) to metallic Internal Combustion Engine (SINGLE ATVON 6-9 series). The team is optimistic that this engine will unlock the potential of several sectors including farm irrigation on farms and powering walking tractors. In construction it can be used in the concrete mixtures and brick making machines. Also in transport, power generation and in training.
“What we need now is the government support. When we get funding, we are ready to start mass production here in Uganda,” Kirabira adds.
MAPRONANO is the Africa Centre of Excellence for Materials, Product Development and Nano Technology. It was established in 2018 and is funded by the government of Uganda with credit from the World Bank. MAPRONANO focuses on applied science to develop the capacity of universities and related entities in research.
“It is a regional center and we are looking at material science and engineering, product development and nanotechnology. We engage in applied research which can generate prototypes that can become products. These products can then be developed by industry partners to a commercial level. This implies that as a region, we can be able to support industry ourselves rather than depending on products from China and elsewhere,” says Kirabira.
Story by Dr. Marion Alina