Buses Go Bio: The Green Route for Public Transport

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Buses Go Bio: The Green Route for Public Transport

Malaysia need not look far to ramp up its green initiatives. With vast palm oil plantations, that produces biomethane as a by-product, Scania’s David Lantz says that there is no better time to use biogas as fuel for Malaysia’s transport system.

“Waste generated from one thousand people is enough to run one city bus,” says David Lantz of Swedish commercial vehicle manufacturer Scania.

His calculation is based on using biowaste materials - be it food, animal or plant waste - which produces biomethane gases, to fuel bus engines. Going by his estimates, “In the Klang Valley, there’s 7.2 million people living here. You’ll have enough waste to fuel at least seven thousand city buses.”

Lantz, who runs Scania’s sustainability unit in Southeast Asia, has called Kuala Lumpur home for the past eight years. The potential for biogas utilisation in city buses, fuelled mainly by diesel oil currently, is right at our doorsteps, he says.

The answer? Palm oil waste. “Its a fuel that you already have,” says Lantz.

When it comes to biogas, it’s always a question if you want to harness it or not

Malaysia has abundant biomass resources generated from the agricultural industry, particularly palm oil. Palm oil mill effluent, with it’s high organic content, makes a great source for biogas production.

“When it comes to biogas, it’s always a question if you want to harness it or not. As soon as you put the waste into the landfill, waste starts to rot and you get biogas. Any biodegradable material is basically biogas. It is very toxic to the environment.”

To put it simply, if implemented well, the use of biogas as fuel can kill two birds with one stone - turn waste into energy and bring down pollution.

(Methane is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.)

Gas Vehicle is Commercially Viable Today

“According to the regulations that you have, palm oil mills have to collect all the methane - which is a by-product of palm oil production,” Lantz explains further.

Since January 2014, new mill licences will only be extended if a biogas plant or plan for it is submitted to the authorities. The regulation also applies to existing palm oil mills applying for additional capacity.

The lowest hanging fruit is using biogas coming from palm oil mills and run the transport system

“You are already collecting them, which means the fuel is already there,” he says. “So, the lowest hanging fruit is using biogas coming from palm oil mills and run the transport system."

According to the Ministry of Primary Industries, there are 464 palm oil mills nationwide. Out of which, 102 mills have installed biogas trapping facilities. 

Hailing from a country that is edging closer to zero-waste (Sweden recycles 99 percent of its garbage) we ask Lantz on how biogas became a viable and sustainable business model, and what Malaysia can learn from it.

“The business case is quite simple. If you are a waste management company, you should have a long term contract or concession to take care of waste. In Malaysia, the concession is somewhere between 20 to 25 years,” Lanz explains.

“Now, you need to know what you will do with the waste for 20 to 25 years, you must already have the long term thinking.”

“It’s more of a decision of the government and what type of policies they want to push forward; what type of fuel they’d like to see operators use,” says Lantz. “But looking at what available right now, biogas is available.”

It’s A Question of Political Will

While the benefits and availability of biogas in Malaysia makes it seem like an attractive choice for fuel, higher initial set-up cost to provide end-to-end infrastructure for biogas facilities makes it less alluring.

Plus, it is less compelling for an oil-producing nation like Malaysia to push hard into alternative source of energy.

For the average cost per kilometre, the electric bus is cheaper than the diesel bus today, the gas bus is even cheaper and the natural gas bus is cheaper of them all

“Diesel is a very comfortable fuel to use, it is very affordable,” Lantz adds.

“You also have to look at the big picture and consider the whole operating costs of the vehicle. So if you were to buy it today, a gas vehicle will be slightly more expensive than a diesel vehicle. And an electric bus will be a lot more expensive. But over time, if you take all the costs into consideration, 15 to 20 years is roughly how long a bus can last, then for the average cost per kilometre, the electric bus is cheaper than the diesel bus today, the gas bus is even cheaper and the natural gas bus is cheaper of them all.”

Lantz adds that Malaysia is in a good position to accelerate adoption of biofuel in road transport as one of the largest producers of palm oil in the world.

“A big cost of operating the vehicle is fuel and any fuel that is subject to international markets will have a lot of price factors, a lot of risk. So, public transport operators can eliminate a lot of risk because they can guarantee fuel supply for a guaranteed price for a very long time.”

“We are open to explore these opportunities further if Malaysia would like to run on biodiesel, or even electric buses, we are very much in support that. But looking at what available right now, biogas is available,” he adds.

We Will Provide the Fuel, It’s Ready to Go

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