By DR KELVIN YII
COMMENT: I urge Chief Minister Abang Johari Tun Openg to reconsider the intention to introduce Hydrogen fuel cell buses on the roads of Kuching by March next year. He also must be more transparent, including revealing the cost of the project, contract details with the said company involved and most importantly the economic feasibility study and cost-effectiveness analysis of the usage of these hydrogen buses, in comparison to other renewable energy powered buses including the common electric buses.
It was only recently that Abang Johari disclosed that three units of buses will be used as pilot vehicles for the. This proposal was a delayed proposal which was supposed to be introduced in July of this year, but somehow it was pushed till next year and I believe a proper explanation of the delay must be made clear as whether such delays is due to the feasibility and economic sense of the usage of such buses.
When asked on the cost of each bus, he said this is being negotiated but he assured that it will not be that expensive. How is that an MoU is being signed but the price of the contract and the buses have yet to be determined? Then was there even a cost effectiveness analysis and feasibility study being done, since the cost of the buses itself has not been decided? Will this contract also include maintenance after the purchase has been made and thus how many years will that maintenance agreement last since currently we might not have the speciality to do it yet.
On top of that, with regards to Foshan Feishi Automobile Manufacture Co Ltd China On, what basis were they chosen as the strategic partners including their competency and suitability in not just producing the buses but also maintenance which is an important factor to ensure the highly flammable hydrogen gas will not pose a danger to the bus users.
Abang Johari also mentioned that the cost of such public transportation will be cheap, considering the fact that hydrogen is extracted from water, which is abundant in Sarawak. The reality is that, while water is abundant, and the problem is the amount of energy needed to electrolyse water into Hydrogen, and then convert it back into electricity to charge the batteries in the buses is not cheap.
On top of the production process or ‘electrolysis’ that is not cheap, the cost of building fuelling stations itself will also be costly. Storing and distributing hydrogen safely requires high speciality and thus will incur high cost.
Matter of fact is, the main feedstock for Hydrogen in China also doesn’t come from water (only 4%), most of it are produced from cracking coal (18%), Oil (30%) and Natural Gas (48%). This means that will the State Government be able to guarantee that hydrogen for these buses will come 100% from water or will we still be reliant on fossil fuel?
Thus, I strongly question the direction Abang Jo and the State Government is taking with the introduction of these hydrogen buses, especially when in Sarawak our power is already largely renewable (70%+ Hydro) and an electric bus can easily charge using the grid anywhere anytime, without investing in a non-existent hydrogen infrastructure and distribution network.
Battery technology is developing much faster than electrolysis. We now have super capacitors that charges instantly, lower maintenance cost, superb lifespan that is already in advance trial even in China. Electrolysis on the other hand requires a huge scientific break though to be economically and scientifically viable.
Thus, I strongly urge Abang Johari to reconsider such implementation taking into account the current need and resources in Sarawak. We already have readily available renewable and sustainable energy through all the mega dams in the State that can be pumped directly into a cheaper and simpler alternative, which is the common electric bus. Just because we have the money or a big reserve, doesn’t mean we can just simply spend it on items that will not be cost effective for the people.
• Dr Kelvin Yii is the Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching