Greener transport: With pollution a concern, new initiatives are under way to reduce green house gas emissions

In looking closer at the interworking of plans being made to alleviate the gridlock within the Metro Manila area, the longer-term strategic goals of the Philippine government include an emphasis on employing more environmentally-friendly modes of transport and cleaner fuels, in a concerted effort to curtail the increasing air pollution indicative of excessive carbon emissions in Manila. Combating this issue is not just a beneficial public relations tactic to appease the powerful pro-environment camps within the country and around the world, but is also a critical component of the country’s longterm energy reform plans.

By utilising cleaner, cheaper and domestically-sourced fuels for these vital public transport modes, the government is able to address all three strategic pillars of these reforms: to ensure energy security, achieve optimal energy pricing and develop a sustainable energy plan. As an added side benefit, this approach also provides business opportunities for companies engaged in retrofitting and conversion of existing vehicles to operate on cleaner fuels.

Greenhouse Gas

The transportation sector is currently both the largest consumer of imported oil as well as the single largest emitter of carbon dioxide gases, making it an obvious target for energy and climate reform. The Philippines’ greenhouse gas emissions have increased significantly over the past two decades, in line with the country’s economic rise, with associated CO emissions increasing by from an estimated 6m-10m tonnes of CO equivalent in 1990 to approximately 29m tonnes of CO equivalent in 2007, an annual increase of about 6- 10% according to the “Clean Technology Fund Investment Plan” report produced by the Philippine government in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Of this, the road sector dominates other transportation modes such as marine and aviation, and accounts for nearly 88% of this particulate growth over the 17-year timeframe. Based on motorisation growth rates, which are running at roughly 6% and the projected increase in urban population by 35m people by 2030, emission contributions from road transport are projected to increase to 87m tonnes of equivalent by 2030 under a business-as-usual scenario. The realisation of this scenario would not only result in a rapid increase in the country’s carbon footprint, but would further exacerbate air quality while contributing further to the already high levels of congestion, while also increasing the country’s reliance on foreign energy imports.

Seeking to avoid this scenario, the most recent wave of new mass transit upgrades feature a number of high profile, big-ticket infrastructure projects, including new expressways and an extensive network of new urban rail lines, which have garnered cautiously optimistic praise as key components of a long-term solution to the traffic problem. However, the less celebrated and equally important element of this strategy is increasing the efficiency and range of a more extensive public road transport network within the country, while still limiting costs and curbing carbon emissions.

The new rail lines are a good solution as they will help provide clean transportation options within an expanding number of interconnected districts throughout the Metro Manila area, but an efficient road network remains vital for the ever increasing suburban population of the city.

Rules Of The Road

Recognising the potential of the road transport network in helping make relatively rapid and inexpensive improvements in energy security, while reducing emissions, the government included an alternative fuel programme for the transport sector in its Philippine Energy Plan 2012-30, which called for 30% of all public utility vehicles to run on alternative fuels by 2030. This includes a target of 15,000 buses and 16,000 taxis to be fuelled by compressed natural gas (CNG) by 2030, compared to the 61 CNG-converted buses operating in 2011 and no CNG-capable taxis. These vehicles are to be supplemented with another 23,000 liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)-powered automobiles by 2030, up from 19,052 in 2011 and 230,000 battery-powered E-trikes, up from 630 in 2011. If carried through to fruition, this ambitious plan would transform Manila’s roadways over the next decade and a half. The plan would replace a substantial proportion of the diesel and gasoline-operated city buses, charter buses, jeepneys, motorbike tricycles and taxi cabs with fleets of newer and more efficient vehicles.

CNG: The programme is supported by inexpensive fuel priced at P14.52 ($0.32) per litre compared to around P42 ($0.93) per litre for diesel. Longer range goals include awarding franchising licences to CNG-powered fleets and developing filling station infrastructure to support private vehicle usage.

Although by no means a new technology, the cost of conversion and lack of a substantial CNG fuel distribution network has so far limited the concept’s adoption and the scheme has run into multiple delays since its original inception. Natural gas’s use in the domestic transportation segment was initiated in 2008 when 15m standard cubic feet (scf) of the fuel was consumed in the country. As petroleum prices continued to rise relative to natural gas over the coming years, the alternative fuel became more attractive and uptake increased to 35m scf in 2012, more than doubling consumption in four years. However, as the global economic climate entered a downturn, the programme began to loose momentum and consumption of natural gas as a transport fuel declined to just 4m scf in 2014 and to nearly none by 2015. In spite of these setbacks, the programme still has its proponents and the government is moving ahead with developing more distribution infrastructure to support the newly equipped CNG vehicles. As of mid-2015, bidding for the first two CNG modular service stations was ongoing and the Department of Energy (DoE) was continuing to coordinate with key stakeholders on maintaining a gas supply for the programme beyond its official 2018 lifespan.


One of the more intriguing solutions, and coincidentally one of most developed as of 2016, is the introduction of small, electric three-wheeled vehicles known as E-trikes, designed to replace the louder and less fuel efficient vehicles powered by small two- or four-stroke petrol engines. The government, in conjunction with the Manila-based ADB, launched a pilot programme for the initiative in 2010, with the goal of bringing 100,000 locally-produced E-trikes to the streets by 2018. By replacing conventional motorbike engines with quiet, fuel efficient electrical motors, the plan is expected to boost drivers’ income by significantly reducing operating costs. The plan will also reduce the transport sector’s annual petroleum consumption by 2.8%, the equivalent of 89.2m litres per year, and reduce CO emissions by 3.8 tonnes per tricycle per year. Funding for the project is split among the ADB, which will provide up to $300m for the $504m project; with the Philippine government funding another $99m; and the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) contributing the remaining $105m. The funding will be used to facilitate the adoption of the new technology. Drivers will be able to purchase their new E-trikes with no down payment, along with a five-year or 80,000-km warranty with after-sales service. The project took a significant step forward in December 2015, when implementation moved from pilot project testing to full scale manufacturing, with the DoE selecting Bemac Electric Transportation Philippines to produce the first 3000 E-trikes. The partnership between a Philippines company and majority holder Izushio Electric Company of Japan was the sole bidder for the contract, which was reported at P364.17m ($8.1m) according to local press reports. Each E-trike unit features a single 3-KWh lithium-ion rechargeable battery and can comfortably sit up to five adult passengers.

Preserving The Old

Another solution seeks to find a compromise to the future of the country’s iconic jeepney, the colourful transport which is common on the streets of Metro Manila. Few residents or policymakers are calling for an outright ban on the ubiquitous diesel-consuming vehicles, but their substantial contribution to CO remains difficult to ignore. Numerous solutions for reducing the vehicle’s negative impact while retaining its innate charm have been discussed over the years, but the current frontrunner is a plan to convert the vehicles to LPG.

A conversion of the dirtier-burning legacy diesel engines into power plants capable of burning smaller amounts of cleaner fuel could provide a potential win-win scenario for both environmental advocates and the jeepney drivers themselves. Automobile-grade LPG (Auto LPG) is a cleaner, high-octane and more eco-friendly fuel obtained from natural gas through fractionation and from crude oil through refining. Its mixture of petroleum gases, such as propane and butane, results in less CO emissions than that of conventional petrol engines. This plan also has the added advantage of a well-established distribution network, as the fuel is already widely in use in private vehicles and taxi cabs around the Metro Manila region. As of mid-2015 there were a total of 7266 taxis that were using LPG, serviced by 224 Auto-LPG stations.