Could Malaysia be working on something that leapfrogs battery electric vehicles (EV)? Yes, and it may be more than an EV policy. It may even be a new energy policy that includes hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles.
A top civil service scientist and his team have already met with a veteran technocrat politician to propose a bold new green energy and electrification policy on EVs powered by hydrogen and fuel cells (H2FC).
Yes, we’re talking about green hydrogen – hydrogen which is generated using renewable energy of which Malaysia has an abundance — as opposed to blue hydrogen which is generated from non-renewable fuel.
The first presentation last month certainly impressed economic affairs minister Mustapa Mohamed.
According to a source, who did not wish to be identified, Malaysia is about to embark on its own hydrogen economy by engaging all stakeholders, including the manufacturing and automotive industries, government-led companies and academia.
Green hydrogen is a big jump towards a net-zero carbon target. It can mean a lot of carbon credits for nations who want to offset their carbon footprints. The new green fuel would hugely benefit Malaysia which has done diddly-squat about decarbonisation. Conversely, the government is increasing the carbon footprint by subsidising petrol and diesel.
On that note, here’s something that Bloomberg Green news service published last year titled, ‘Hydrogen Wars’ Pit Europe v. China for US$700 Billion Business’.
“Niels-Arne Baden has a problem: the factory he’s building for Green Hydrogen Systems is too small.
“Plans for the Denmark site to be one of the largest for assembling the machines that make hydrogen from electricity were finalised about a year ago. But demand for those electrolysers is growing so fast that Baden’s now planning to double its size.
“When I joined this company in 2014, there was no market,” Baden said. “Then last year, it was ‘Kaboom!’, and we were up to our ears in opportunities.”
The Danish company isn’t alone. Governments, energy giants, automobile companies and lobbying groups say hydrogen use is pivotal for cutting greenhouse gas emissions quickly enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
The European Union aims to push as much as 470 billion euros (US$550 billion) towards hydrogen infrastructure. China, Japan and South Korea will all likely use hydrogen to achieve recent pledges to slash emissions; and Saudi Arabia plans to build a US$5 billion hydrogen-based ammonia plant powered by renewable energy.
“It’s countries going against countries to lock in market share,” said Gero Farruggio, head of renewables at research firm Rystad Energy. “We call it ‘the hydrogen wars’ because of the way governments are racing to subsidise these projects.”
On Malaysia’s EV car policy, we should discuss this in the context of the former prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who propelled the nation into the world of automotive technology. His team wrote the rules about how the automotive industry would develop under the wings of a national car project.
We don’t have an EV policy because we’re still stuck with a non-performing National Automotive Policy (NAP) authored in Mahathir’s time.
We don’t yet have a technocratic leader who’s on par with Mahathir, let alone one who rises above him. If we had an EV policy that nurtures our car industry as Norway does, or which Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand have emplaced, Malaysia would be racing ahead because it already has investments from Volvo, Geely-Proton, Toyota, Honda, Stellantis-Peugeot and Volkswagen.
Those companies are among the main auto players in the world with significant EV plans and budgets.
Not to mention, Toyota and Honda have the backing of the Japanese government to drive into a future of hydrogen cars, either as fuel cells or as direct hydrogen fuel for internal combustion engines.
Despite harsh market conditions caused by the pandemic last year, the global electric car market saw a 43% hike, with about three million sold worldwide.
Sales of electric cars in Europe have seen a major increase, surpassing China as the world’s biggest market for automobiles according to EV-Volumes.com.
Turkey, a successful emerging market economy, will be manufacturing and launching for sale its first EV by the end of the year. Mustafa Varank, its industry and technology minister, said the country’s EV project with Turkey’s Automobile Joint Venture Group (TOGG) will be produced by year end.
Closer to home, Vietnam has also recently launched its very own locally produced EVs – three SUVs with up to Level 3 autonomous driving. They are manufactured by VinFast, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vietnam’s largest property-backed conglomerate. The lucky customers will get their hands on them in September this year.
If Malaysia can wake up from policy stupor because of politicians fighting for personal survival and also have a high level auto policy, our youth will be working on electrification and the new world of autonomous driving. The age of the connected, autonomous, sharing, environmentally sustainable (CASE) is changing the world.
This is reflected in Tesla’s worth, US$206 billion as of last June as a corporation while Toyota is worth US$203 billion even though in 2019, it sold about 11 million vehicles, while Tesla sold … less than 300,000.
It’s the CASE technology that Malaysians should be aiming for. Another good starting point would be to modernise the Road Transport Act and insurance laws to facilitate autonomous driving, as Japan did early this year.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.