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Cleaning up an engine’s act

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Asian governments are looking at a number of measures to cut pollution from two-stroke engines, including replacing them with four-stroke power plants similar to those found under the hood of nearly every automobile. But because these small vehicles provide vital transportation and jobs for millions of people in Asia, simply mandating that they be taken off the streets isn’t an option.

A five-year-old nonprofit company called Envirofit International (envirofit.org) is promoting a solution that combines one part technology and one part entrepreneurship. Envirofit wants owners of these smoky vehicles, sometimes called rickshaws or tuk-tuks, to retrofit them with a kit that converts them to direct in-cylinder fuel injection. That reduces carbon monoxide emissions 90 percent and nitrogen oxides 70 percent, says Ron Bills, chairman and CEO of Envirofit in Fort Collins, Colo.

The conversion kits cost about $200, a huge investment for taxi owners who may make only a few dollars per day. That’s why Envirofit is working with micro-lending groups to help drivers afford the conversion. It’s also helping to train local mechanics to install the converters, creating more income for local people.

The incentive to taxi drivers comes in the form of a big boost in gas mileage once the engines are converted, about 35 percent better. That’s because unburned oil and gasoline no longer escape through the engine’s exhaust as smoke, a longtime drawback of two-stroke engines. Drivers can save about $2.80 a day on fuel (currently about $3.75 a gallon in Manila), meaning the conversion pays for itself quickly, says Mr. Bills, whose résumé includes a time as president and CEO of Segway, the maker of the innovative standup electric scooters. The money that drivers don’t spend on gasoline “goes directly into the local economy instead of out the tailpipe of a motorcycle,” he says.

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