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Energy: Malaysia’s potential in the transition

Energy: Malaysia’s potential in the transition

28 Dec 2023

In Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a good chance of reaching its 2030 target of reducing emissions intensity by 45% of its gross domestic product, owing to the strengthened commitment by industry players and the government, as well as the abundance of renewable energy (RE) sources to stabilise the grid when transitioning away from coal, says Anders Maltesen, ABB Energy Industries’ senior vice-president of Asia.

This is something the country should be proud of, he says, taking into consideration that Malaysia’s population is set to grow 25% by 2030 to surpass 40 million, which would mean the nation needs at least 60% more energy than what is available today. Malaysia’s net zero journey — which it pledged to achieve as early as 2050 — is more important now than ever, he says.

“If we look at what the government has done until now, it’s on the right track and just needs to keep adapting the policies, as this is a journey, not only to 2030 or 2050 but beyond.”

Shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) is a good and promising trend, says Maltesen, but without renewable power from the grid driving the vehicle, the purpose is lost. Other than that, improving EV efficiency is key.

“Different EVs have different efficiency levels, even though the battery is the same size. But there are ways to get more mileage out of the same number of electrons used, and that is what we’re doing,” he says.

More importantly, the electrification of industries is crucial. Some of the most polluting and carbon-intensive industries are cement, petrochemical, and iron and steel, as they make up two-thirds of the world’s carbon emissions, says Maltesen. It is possible to replace some of the processes that use fossil fuels to generate energy, for instance, with electricity.

ABB recently partnered with Coolbrook, a Finnish company that has developed groundbreaking technology to electrify chemical cracking.

“Chemical cracking is what is done to make cement, where, basically, the raw materials are heated to an incredibly high temperature to change its chemical composition. The same thing is done with petrochemicals, iron and steel, too.  Coal can now be electrified,” he says.

Positive on carbon capture

Maltesen also observes the potential for carbon capture and storage (CCS) in Malaysia. One usage of CCS, as seen in Australia, is in existing oil and gas fields. Oil is no longer being extracted from these fields, but natural gas still is; and stakeholders are planning to develop a carbon hub in these areas.

“Existing gas processing plants are offshore and will be converted to capture carbon dioxide (CO2), which will then be injected through the same pipelines to depleted oil and gas fields to be stored underground,” he says.

Petronas Carigali, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Petroliam Nasional Bhd (Petronas), is deve­loping the Kasawari gas field, an offshore gas field in the Malaysian part of the South China Sea. The CCS project is expected to capture up to 3.3 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emitted by flaring at the gas field each year.

Maltesen says in Asia, Malaysia has some of the biggest depleted fields available to establish hubs to collect CO2 and inject it back into the ground. It can also be done closer to shore.

“It will be easier because when CO2 has to be transported; the shorter the distance, the less costly it is. ABB is very focused on CCS. It can be a complicated process; dealing with CO2 is different from dealing with conventional oil and gas, as it can become very corrosive in different compositions and conditions,” he says.

One reason not to have too much CO2 in natural gas is that it corrupts the pipe. If it corrodes, it means that the whole investment can be wiped out in no time, like the Chevron Gorgon project in Australia.

The project failed because the CO2 injection system was not ready when gas production started at Gorgon in early 2016. Then Chevron found excess water in the system mixed with CO2, which formed an acid that threatened to corrode the equipment.

What ABB wants to do with partners in this space is provide a digital twin that simulates at fast speeds all possible scenarios, so that the best one can be adapted for stable reinjection of CO2. “If you pump too hard, you can end up with increased temperatures that can liquify the CO2, which can be disastrous.”

A funding and talent challenge

According to Maltesen, the biggest challenge is funding, and it is especially pressing for technology and solutions that are not economically feasible yet.

“There is no way it is not going to cost money. At the end of the day, people like you and me will pay for it either through higher taxes or higher energy prices. It doesn’t happen for free,” he says.

Given that there are new technologies and innovations coming into the landscape, however, he says the sector would require more talent equipped for future technologies. This is something already seen in the EV space, where mechanics are being upskilled to handle EVs and new talent is coming into the industry with technological knowledge.

For technologies such as CCS, it is not as common. ABB has partnered with Imperial College London, where the company has built a small-scale demo CCS plant. The college can educate about 4,500 students as part of its engineering degree course. Maltesen believes Malaysia has the potential to be an education hub in this space as well.

“Malaysia has a huge potential to be a CCS hub because of the capacity, and Petronas is leading the way. It would make sense to replicate an educational programme here in Asia and Malaysia, together with industries, the government and educational institutions,” he says.

“I would love to see us collaborate with stakeholders to train the talents for the future. I’m sure that will be a massive payoff.”

Source: The Edge Malaysia