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Tyres for a cooler climate31.03.2008

Tags: Malaysia       Comments: 0

Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers gleam like two huge crystal candles, but Louis Palmer is also keen to see another building; a house built on old car tyres. First of all though, the Solar Taxi is the highlight at a Malaysian wedding.
Some couples might get a cake with a live "filling" on their wedding day, but in Malaysia one bridal couple's wedding surprise was the Solar Taxi. Since our TV interview with the Minister for the Environment we have become famous here. People wave to us on the street and take photos. So the newlyweds were thrilled to get behind the wheel in their golden gowns. For us too, the invitation to a Malaysian wedding was something special. Bride and groom were both decorated in gold from head to foot and half the village was invited.
We go on our way, exhilarated by this happy event, although the tempestuous weather keeps trying to wash out our good mood. Every afternoon lightning plays along the horizon, massive black clouds gather, thunderclaps roll over us, then it pours with rain. When we get out of the vehicle we're immediately soaked and have to pick our way through deep puddles. In Kuala Lumpur Ralph Krättli and Lionel Yap are waiting to take us to a "smart and cool house" built on old tyres, which will - in their words - "bowl me over". We visit the "old tyre master builder" Lincoln, the house's owner, looks more like a smart architect than a collector of car tyres. In fact he is both and his idea is ingenious. "I collect old car tyres and make house foundations out of them. The old tyres transfer heat into the earth and they bring coolness from there up into the house. A household in Malaysia usually pays 60 percent of its electricity costs for airconditioning, but my house is eight degrees cooler than the air outside without an airconditioner. I get the tyres for free, the foundation of this house needs less concrete than a normal house, and my material-saving walls transfer the sun's heat directly into the tyres. I also save 40 percent of the cost of building the foundation walls and foundations."
Lincoln and his family seem to live very well in their house, and not just because they don't get colds from the airconditioning any more. He adds seriously, "I have patented my invention. Anyone who wants to build on tyres has to buy my plans for 1,000 dollars per house. 80 houses have been built this way so far and 7,000 people are waiting for me to do the plans for them."
Oil towers shine a light
Late at night the city's Petronas Towers, the towers of the state-run oil company, shine in the distance like two huge crystal candles, creating a fascinating play of light.
Next morning on the highway our front wheel starts to rattle. We stop and Frank yells, "The wheel nuts are loose!" Did someone loosen the bolts on our front wheels during the night, or has it happened on its own since we left Bali? Our opinions differ. One thing is certain; Frank, our new passenger, will have to sleep next to the Solar Taxi. My greatest fear in the Far East is that parts of the car, or even the whole car, could disappear overnight, only to resurface somewhere as a mass-produced vehicle.
Ralph and Lionel run a small company called "Solamas" in "KL", as the capital is usually called. They install solar systems, make small solar mobile phone chargers and are planning a medium-sized hydroelectric power plant. Their company is located in a "Castello", a kind of ‘creative castle' and they both bubble over with new ideas. Our two supporters have organised not only our accommodation, but also five presentations at universities and schools during our two-day stay. The Sri Aman Secondary Girls School has been following our journey on the Internet for two months. The 180 girls bombard us with questions and all want to take a test drive and we're happy to oblige.


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