Moving closer to net zero by moving with cleaner fuel

Biodiesel buses are preventing and reducing air pollution through low-carbon urban transportation

September 7, 2023

Authored by: Andrea Egan 


Co-authored by: Hani Izwani and Lalitha Monisha


Estimates suggest that 99% of the global population breathes polluted air. Because so many urban-dwellers are breathing unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter and other pollutants, with people in low and middle-income countries suffering the highest exposures, a record number of cities – over 6,000 municipalities in 117 countries – are now monitoring air quality.

Transportation, from daily commutes to international shipping, makes up a sizeable portion of the greenhouse gas emissions in cities. Greening this key sector is vital for cities to achieve net-zero emissions.

The theme for the fourth annual International Day of Clean Air for blue skies, ‘Together for Clean Air’, highlights the urgent need for stronger partnerships, increased investment, and shared responsibility for overcoming air pollution

Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) / Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Malaysia

Together for Clean Air

In Malaysia, the Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) is supporting sustainable city solutions at the local level through strong partnerships with community associations and city councils.

Focusing on five participating Malaysian cities – Putrajaya, Cyberjaya, Petaling Jaya, Hang Tuah Jaya and Iskandar Malaysia, these efforts include the promotion of several low carbon transportation projects and initiatives in these areas. The project is expected to generate direct Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reductions of 346,442 tonnes CO2eq by end of project and 2,152,032 tonnes CO2eq over the lifetime of project investment.

One of the key projects under GTALCC is the Biodiesel B100 Pilot Program for Low Carbon Public Bus Transportation for MRT Buses. Biodiesel is a type of biofuel that is used as a direct substitute to conventional petroleum diesel (i.e. fossil fuel) and plays an important role in decarbonising the transportation sector.  It can also often be used in existing engines with little to no modification. In Malaysia, the biodiesel produced is primarily palm-based, which is a renewable raw material that is available readily in the country. 

Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) / Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Malaysia

The Biodiesel B100 Pilot Program is showcasing proof of concept to local authorities and government agencies on the value of alternative/ low-carbon fuels for buses. The project also aims to promote the conversion of existing diesel-fuelled buses to biodiesel. In particular, this work supports the use of higher-ratio biofuel blends to reduce GHG and other emissions in Malaysian cities. In the programme, for example, the type of biodiesel used, B100, indicates the content of 100% pure biodiesel, compared to 20% biodiesel in B20 or 80% biodiesel in B80.

5 months. 10 buses. 100% bio-diesel.

For a 5-month period – May-October 2022 — ten buses were converted to run on B100 biodiesel. This pilot resulted in a 74.68% reduction in GHG emissions – in absolute terms, preventing the emissions of nearly 100 metric tonnes of GHGs that would have been emitted had diesel fuel been used.

Based on the dramatic success of the pilot, participants intend to extend the project in order to enhance awareness, demonstrate efficacy, and enjoy the efficiency gains and concomitant pollution reduction. The long term objective is to gradually transition all diesel buses to B100 biodiesel, as it offers significant benefits in terms of reducing GHG, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide emissions. 

Green Technology Application for the Development of Low Carbon Cities (GTALCC) / Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Malaysia

To enhance the cost effectiveness of B100, the project will endeavour to review and revise the current tax and subsidy structure on fossil fuel. Because of the clear climate change mitigation and pollution reduction benefits, this project suggests that the subsidy structure currently applied to fossil fuels should be extended to renewable fuels instead. Such adjustments would better facilitate the adoption of B100 biodiesel for widespread use in Malaysia.

Success of the GTALCC project would not be possible without concerted effort and strong partnership. The project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change (NRECC), with support from UNDP and Sustainable Energy Development Authority (SEDA) Malaysia as the lead consultant. Other key stakeholders include MRT Corporation Sdn. Bhd., Rapid Bus Sdn Bhd (Prasarana Malaysia Berhad), and Scania Malaysia.

Given the transboundary nature of air pollution, all stakeholders have a responsibility to protect the earth’s atmosphere – and in return will realize a shared benefit of healthier air and fewer climate disruptions. Working together, across borders and boundaries, between sectors and beyond silos, will help reduce air pollution, leverage finance and investments towards air quality measures and solutions, and generate benefits both locally and globally.