Step On The Gas For Transport Into A Greener Future


Remember NGV, or natural gas for vehicles? The term was coined by Petronas in 1986 when it launched the use of this relatively clean fuel for commercial vehicles including taxis.
NGV is actually compressed natural gas. This fossil fuel is also the cleanest burning of all. Motor vehicles can also use liquefied natural gas (LNG), depending on the fuelling system deployed on the vehicles.
Petronas launched natural gas for vehicles with two objectives: to reduce dependence on petrol and diesel, and to reduce pollution.
At the peak of the natural gas era in 2014, there were about 179 Petronas stations supplying natural gas to about 74,112 vehicles, made up of 50,000 taxis, 1,520 buses, 4,562 lorries and 18,030 private cars, according to Jeffrey Ng of the Malaysian Association of Natural Gas for Vehicles Installers.
When I met Ng at his workshop in Melaka, he was anxious about the future: the number of Petronas stations supplying NGV had dropped by more than half to 67 stations. He estimated that the number of vehicles using natural gas had also been halved.
He said current consumption of natural gas is estimated to be around 195 million litres per annum (substituting about 159 million litres of petrol and 36 million litres of diesel).
Besides the lost opportunity to cut back on CO2 emissions towards Malaysia’s 2030 national decarbonisation target, Ng is also worried about the plight and future of NGV workshops in the country. The current number of licensed NGV workshops is 20, compared to 75 in 2016.
Ng said the NGV industry in Malaysia needs a clear direction on its future in the country. He lamented that besides the closing of NGV workshops, many NGV users had also reverted to using petrol and diesel.
With fuel prices increasing, resulting in more expenditure by the government on subsidies, NGV usage should be strongly supported and its use promoted as not only is it a low-carbon fuel, but it can also reduce the government’s subsidy expenditure.
Petronas is undertaking the shift to renewable energy via a new corporate entity, Gentari Sdn Bhd, but it should revisit its NGV programme as part of the decarbonisation objective.
Countries with healthy NGV markets, such as China, India, Germany and the US, need to be studied and emulated.
Then there is bio-gas. It has been said that if all the cattle in the world were a nation, it would be the third highest generator of greenhouse gases.
Malaysia, as the world’s second largest producer of palm oil, is probably also the world’s second highest emitter of biogas from palm oil mill effluent.
This biogas consists of 60% methane and 40% carbon dioxide and traces of other gases. Methane is a greenhouse gas said to be 25 times more dangerous to global warming than carbon dioxide.
However, biogas can be upgraded to biomethane or renewable natural gas that has a composition similar to fossil natural gas.
Renewable natural gas can be used to fuel vehicles without any modification to the existing NGV engines as the composition of RNG is similar to the natural gas being supplied to NGVs.
There is already one plant for renewable natural gas in operation since 2015 at Felda Sungai Tengi, Perak, not far from Kuala Lumpur. It is a project jointly undertaken by Felda, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board and Sime Darby. The gas is commercially supplied to a factory about 50km away.
RNG can be supplied to NGV refuelling stations by road or injected into the existing fossil natural gas pipeline.
This means it can be quickly harnessed and deployed using existing infrastructure while new infrastructure for green electricity and green hydrogen is put in place.
Renewable natural gas can play a major role in Malaysia’s energy transition to renewable energy and achieving net zero emission by 2050 for Malaysia, and can be the catalyst for the revitalisation of the declining NGV market in Malaysia.
More NGV stations should be built instead of closing them down and more vehicles, especially heavy duty vehicles like lorries and trucks, should be converted to NGVs as electrification of this segment of the transport sector is very challenging and will take a long time.
RNG is commercially available in many areas in Europe, USA, China, Japan, India and Thailand for vehicles and industries.
NGV and RNG have an important role in our move towards Low Carbon Mobility as currently natural gas is the cleanest commercially available fuel for vehicles.
Petronas should build on its early start in natural gas and use this to complement its electrification and decarbonisation objectives. Felda, Sime Darby and MPOB too should continue to lead the way in RNG development and deployment and work with Petronas. - FMT
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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