24/01/2013. Minister for Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom drives a solar powered vehicle that won three awards durinng the 2012 Sasol Solar Challenge Picture: Etienne Creux

Pretoria - Donkey carts may go solar, it emerged on Thursday.

This was one of the ideas the Tshwane University of Technology’s Institute for Advanced Tooling (IAT) discussed with Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom.

Solar-powered donkey carts could provide reliable transport to school for pupils and teachers in rural areas, Hanekom said after the event.

“Although more research will have to be done, we should not delay too long in testing the concept to determine whether it is feasible in real life.”

He said donkey carts were a reality in this country, and a major form of transport in some rural areas.

Donkeys were practical, because there were some terrains that could not be reached by car but could be reached by animals, Hanekom said.

A solar-powered donkey cart would be like any other donkey cart. The only difference is that it would be powered by solar energy. Load sensors would be installed to ensure that the donkey only steers the cart and carries none of the load.

“We are just adding a little bit of technology to an ordinary donkey cart,” said Bob Bond, centre manager for IAT, adding that the donkey would only be there to guide the cart through rough terrain.

IAT hopes to partner with the Department of Science and Technology and get this project running as soon as possible.

Hanekom said his department was trying to move away from fossil-based fuels, but the challenge was to make clean energy fashionable and cost-effective.

“We want to be a department which seeks to provide cleaner technological solutions to solve our country’s problems and improve the livelihoods of its citizens, especially at grassroots level. We have to make people want to be environmentally conscious,” he said.

If the concept finds sponsorship, it could potentially create employment opportunities within the very communities it wishes to serve.

“Hopefully we could include community members to assist us in building these carts,” said Bond, centre manager for IAT.

“That’s what we mean when we speak of open innovation,” he said.

During his visit, Hanekom took a ride in “Fire of the Dawn”, the only solar vehicle to win three awards at the 2012 Sasol Solar Challenge.

The creation of this vehicle followed the development of a hydrogen bike, which can travel 100km on 100g of hydrogen.

The bike was funded by the Department of Science and Technology as part of its Hydrogen South Africa programme.

The concept took shape after a previous visit from Hanekom to IAT in 2011, following the launching of its hydrogen bike.

After the success of the launch, Hanekom said he would like to see such “green” innovations used to address the problem of transport for schoolchildren in rural areas.

“The whole point is to raise mobility in rural areas. There are some instances where children have to walk over 8km over rough terrain just to get to school every day.” - Pretoria News