Hydrogen bus at Hydrogen Refueling station.

Sarawak’s Hydrogen Bus

Recently, the city of Kuching made headlines as the first state in Malaysia, as well as in Southeast Asia, to operate three environmental-friendly 18-seater buses. Along with the vehicles, the city also unveiled Southeast Asia’s first Integrated Hydrogen Production Plant and Refueling Station.

A zero-emission vehicle

Centuries ago, when humans first ruled the world — animals were the mode of transportation and nothing such as a mechanical machinery vehicle ran through their minds. In the 18th century, steam-engine cars were introduced, and later on, gasoline powered cars.

Nonetheless, as centuries passed and the earth evolved, more research were done on environmental pollution. With worrying statistics of global warming and climate change, it was found that gasoline which fuelled our vehicles were responsible for it.

Just decades ago, blueprints of an environmentally friendly car were drawn and as years passed, various car manufacturers introduced eco-friendly system functions for their vehicles. With much research and development, scientists and engineers had a scientific breakthrough in the application of hydrogen technology onto machineries and vehicles.

Penetration into the Southeast Asia region

While hydrogen-powered vehicles can be seen regularly in Northeast Asian countries, Sarawak is the first to implement hydrogen-powered vehicles within the Southeast Asian region.

With the introduction of hydrogen buses on the streets of Kuching, Sarawak last January, it is hoped that the use of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in our local transportation services can offer one of the possible solutions in addressing the environmental effects caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Speaking to Sarawak Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) General Manager, Abdul Hadi Datuk Abdul Kadir on its environmental factors, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can be seen as a viable option since it reduces carbon emissions from fossil energy use and power generation.

(From right) Awang Nasfuddin Awang Hassan from the SEDC Planning and Monitoring Division, Sarawak Metro Sdn Bhd Chief Executive Officer Mazli Mustaffa, SEDC General Manager Abdul Hadi Datuk Abdul Kadir and SEDC Planning and Monitoring Division Director James Ambrose Dago.

Being a long-term plan, the Sarawak Government wants to ensure that the state’s public transportation system is operating on clean energy to protect the environment. 

These buses will enable the state to move towards the Hydrogen Economy (H2 Economy) which is defined as an economy that relies on hydrogen as an alternative and renewable energy that becomes the driving force of the economy’s transportation sector.

Grateful for Sarawak’s chief minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg’s initiative to introduce the hydrogen buses, Hadi added that with the usage of the buses, it serves as a green alternative for the public.

“Through this, we can play our part in contributing towards achieving 45 per cent reduction of carbon emission per capita by 2030 as what Malaysia had aspired,” said Hadi.

With its main source of power derived from hydrogen gas, the cost of a hydrogen bus was RM 1.2 million obtained from its manufacturer ‘Foshan Feichi Automobile Manufacture Co. Ltd.’ China.

Able to accomodate 30 passengers at a time, the bus is also equipped with 4G LTE WiFi Bus router for the convenience of its commuters.

With a total of three buses running the roads, it covers routes from Kuching Waterfront to Damai Beach in Santubong, Jalan Tun Abdul Rahman Yaakub to Medan Niaga Kubah Ria, Jalan Abell, Jalan Padungan, Jalan Sentral Timur, Jalan Tun Haji Openg, Jalan Satok, Jalan Kulas, Jalan Muda Hashim, and Jalan Datuk Ajibah Abol.

Hydrogen bus running through the streets of Kuching.

Hydrogen, an environmental friendly option

Speaking to Awang Nasfuddin Awang Hassan of the SEDC Planning and Monitoring Division, he explained how Sarawak Energy Berhad (SEB) processes the hydrogen gas to power the fuel cells of the buses.

“For our hydrogen in Sarawak, we use water as our main source. Through the process of electrolysis, the separation of hydrogen and oxygen (which compound makes h2o = water) occurs.

“Then the hydrogen obtained will be compressed and stored at SEB’s integrated production and refuelling station where our buses will fuel up with the hydrogen gas with a purity of 99.999 percent.”

Awang continued to explain that the hydrogen gas in the tank that serves as a storage of energy for the bus, “And once the bus is started, then the hydrogen gas will be pumped to the fuel cell.”

In the fuel cell, Hydrogen and oxygen can be combined in a fuel cell to produce electrical energy. Through the process, the hydrogen from the gas and the oxygen from the air will produce water and electric. “The water will go as waste, while the electric will run the motor. That is why our hydrogen buses are a zero-emission vehicle.”

For a full tank of 20 kilogrammes, the buses could go as far as 300 kilometres.

Hydrogen Safety

Hydrogen bus at Hydrogen Refueling station.

According to a statement by Hadi, although hydrogen has been portrayed as a potentially dangerous fuel, it is unlikely to present serious fire risk unless a leak occurs in an enclosed, unventilated area.

Furthermore, “Through a fuel fire demonstration done by University of Miami, a hydrogen-powered vehicle can burn out completely with little to no damage on the vehicle in comparison to a gasoline-fuelled vehicle that leads to destruction and incineration of its occupants.”

Despite large production volumes globally, the hydrogen industry has an enviable safety record. Hydrogen safety standards are stricter and more rigorously enforced than those for equally flammable natural gas, coal gas and gasoline.

Apart from the fire risk if exposed to air and ignition source (a risk shared equally with fossil gas and liquid fuels), hydrogen is essentially a safe substance. It is completely non-toxic, non-allergenic and harmless to the natural environment. Furthermore, innovation, technology and research and development of new concepts and designs have further improved hydrogen safety in storage and transportation.