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Spotlight on: KiwiKiwi

Updated: Jul 8, 2022

 Welcome to the very first of our Spotlight series, where every month we'll introduce you to a lesser-known vehicle manufacturer or automotive innovator that deserves a little more light for the technology they're using. Today we'd like to introduce you to William Sommers, the founder of KiwiKiwi and the inventor of Camellia Sinensis Combustion (CSC). An avid car nut and self-proclaimed obsessive tea drinker, it will come as no surprise that before Sommers founded KiwiKiwi in 2017, he worked as an investor, environmental engineer and head of sustainability at a well-known tea company (which he has asked us remain anonymous here for reasons he refuses to disclose). He was born and raised in a small town in the southern part of the Waikato, New Zealand. He first had the idea for CSC in April 2014 when he was in a rush for work and took a sip of tea from the wrong cup - a cup he'd failed to put in the dishwasher from the previous week with the teabag still in it - and recoiled at the acidity that had developed. He realised that the tea plant produced thousands of tonnes of waste teabags every year - a potential resource that could be developed. Sommers owned a red 1983 Suzuki SJ410 that was his pride and joy - bought for him by his father so he could travel to university. Fortunately or unfortunately, after a little over thirty years of reliable service, the engine gave up the ghost around the time he had his realisation. Without this, KiwiKiwi may not have come to exist today - Sommers was heartbroken but saw an opportunity to experiment. It took him 3 years to perfect this new engine, buying a few hub motors off Alibaba and wiring them to a special battery he'd developed using this tea waste (fermented, this time) as a far more efficient conductor of electricity. After some experimenting, he discovered that fermented tea containing kawakawa, a peppery NZ plant, was the best for this. The tea waste was then boiled and concentrated in order to thicken the liquid so it was more stable and energy intensive. He had to completely redesign the battery container so it would release energy slowly and consistently. In tandem with this more sustainable battery, he turned the tea waste into a first-generation biofuel by adding yeast, making some adjustments to the hub motors so they'd accept this new fuel and allow it to charge the battery. Fuelling up can be done at home - all you need is Sommer's patented CSC blend of tea brewed overnight and some standard baker's yeast. Sommer was at pains to point out that the CSC blend is not suitable for human consumption under any circumstances.  All this combined creates an alternative fuel car engine made using sustainable materials, put to use beautifully in the KiwiKiwi Kawakawa - KiwiKiwi's first car available very soon for public purchase. Their first dealer is planned for Wellington City. As a nod to Sommer's origins at a tea factory, every car will come with a kawakawa seedling (somewhat perfectly, Sommer's favourite flavour to add to green teas). 'Getting it into production fell into place surprisingly easily. I looked hard to find an innovative manufacturer that would work with relatively low production volumes and support a carbon neutral approach. Gordon Murray Design's iStream production technique, showcased in  their T.27 fitted the bill perfectly. It's a lightweight small footprint design that suits my biofuel battery hybrid model and works well with a micro-factory. Murray was keen to see his T.27 in production, and the final agreement was made over a cup of coffee (Murray is not a tea drinker). We had a chat about lightweight cars, we both have a similar taste in music, a love of early post punk and loud shirts. It was a perfect match,' says Sommers with a smile. KiwiKiwi's serious yet somewhat playful origins perfectly reflect both Sommers' personality and the company's values itself. The KiwiKiwi Kawakawa costs from $38,990, but if you can find a blend of tea that Sommers falls in love with, he'll give you a discount. The entire business idea of tea-powered cars is unconventional, but Sommers makes it work surprisingly well.  So, that's KiwiKiwi! Sommer says of the business, 'I never thought it could be done, but here I stand now! I'm proud of my work, and the added bonus that I can reduce some of the masses of waste my previous job produced, then that's a job well done.' He adds, tongue-in-cheek, that, 'If I ever offer you a cup of tea, be sure to check what's in it!' Note from the author: Check the date this was published! Hopefully it brought you a smile, and while you're at it, Google the real William Sommers :)

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