How a near-death experience at 17 inspired this Congolese woman to build a hybrid electric car

Stephen Nartey January 06, 2023
Congolese inventor, Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga/Photo credit: Dr. Mubenga

When she had to battle for her life at the age of 17 because there was no electricity for doctors to operate on her for an ailment that required surgery, the experience was traumatic. Congolese inventor Sandrine Ngalula Mubenga found her purpose in those low moments at the Kikwit General Hospital in Bandundu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She dreamt of becoming an electrical engineer so that she would be able to provide electricity for her people and save lives, as captured by Afro Culture. She could have died, she recalled. This was because her community always had an erratic supply of electricity which affected institutions like the hospital.

On that fateful day, she fell seriously ill but the Kikwit General Hospital did not even have fuel to power a generator. Doctors had told her parents that her life could only be saved through emergency surgery. Her father went to seek help. The hospital eventually found fuel to power the generator and Mubenga’s life was saved.

Mubenga had made a vow that if she survived the ordeal, she would find a way to ensure no one suffers a similar fate. And so when she gained admission to the University of Toledo, Ohio, USA, she dedicated her time to studying renewable energy for her Bachelor’s Degree in Electrical Engineering.

Before she completed her degree, she invented a portable solar system that produces electricity from a solar panel. She built her invention of the hybrid electric car during her master’s degree at the University of Toledo. The vehicle runs on a hydrogen fuel cell and direct current.

The electric car does not pollute the environment because its only waste is water. The fuel cell depends on hydrogen gas and air to produce direct current. It is this direct current that powers the electric motor in the car to enable the driver to move the vehicle. She also designed a hydrogen generating station which provides the car with hydrogen when it runs out. In that sense, the hybrid car can be driven to the station to fill up when it becomes necessary.

Mubenga was awarded the best research Master of Electrical Engineering Department by the academic board of the University of Toledo. She worked with multinationals like General Electric and First Energy before establishing her own business in 2011. The SMIN Power Group designs and installs renewable energy in line with Mubenga’s dream. The company is based in the United States but has a branch in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa.

She was awarded by the association of Congolese from Washington, D.C. with the prize of Nkoy merit Award. This was followed by the Congolese Merit Award from the association “Friends of Congo” in Boston.

She was named the Young Engineer of the Year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2010 for her contributions to the profession.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 6, 2023


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