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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Biofuels in Japan

I suppose this might make sense as long as waste products are used but otherwise if the rice itself is used it seems inefficient and perhaps immoral to divert a food to making fuel. I am surprised that fuel in Japan is no more expensive than here in Canada.


Reuters India

Sake may power Japanese cars in the future
http://in.today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=technologyNews&storyID=2007-05-11T170043Z_01_NOOTR_RTRJONC_0_India-297764-1.xml&archived=False

Fri May 11, 2007

By Risa Maeda

SHINANOMACHI, Japan (Reuters) - Japanese motorists may one day pump
their
cars full of sake, the fermented rice wine that is Japan's national
drink,
if a pilot project to create sake fuel is a hit with locals in this
mountain
resort.

The government-funded project at Shinanomachi, 200 kilometres northwest
of
Tokyo, will produce cheap rice-origin ethanol brew with the help of
local
farmers who will donate farm waste such as rice hulls to be turned into
ethanol.

"We want to present the next generation a preferable blue print -- a
self-sustainable use of local fuels," said Yasuo Igarashi, a professor
of
applied microbiology at the University of Tokyo who heads the three
year
project.

If the project catches on with locals then it could pave the way for
similar
endeavours across Japan that will see Japanese cars running on
Japanese-made
biofuels in the future, he added.

Japan, the world's second largest gasoline consumer after the United
States,
is entirely dependent on crude oil imports and it has been hit by the
surge
in oil prices.

With hefty carbon emissions reduction targets to meet under the Kyoto
protocols, Japan is turning to biofuels. Yet motorists in Japan are
still
far behind drivers in Europe and the United States in their consumption
of
green fuels.

Some analysts say Japan is at a major disadvantage as high prices for
local
farm produce mean locally-made green fuels are exorbitantly expensive.
Added to that is a lack of support from the country's powerful oil
distributors and a failure by the government to provide policy
incentives
such as mandatory usage.

That is where Igarashi and his team come in. They hope to show that
biofuels
are feasible and inexpensive by developing a low-cost fuel and
encouraging a
local community of about 10,000 people to take part in producing that
fuel.

SWEET AROMA OF BIOFUELS

Production has just begun at the facility at a former high school field
in
Shinanomachi and a sweet, sour aroma, similar to that of unfiltered
sake,
wafts into the air.

"We like the idea," said Shigehiro Matsuki, the mayor of Shinanomachi.
"The new fuels are renewable... instead of fossil fuels which are
running
out."

Unlike spacious sugar cane plantations in the No.1 ethanol exporter,
Brazil,
family farming is dominant in Japan, with a majority of farmers working
regular jobs and growing rice, the staple food, on their weekends.

There is plenty of potential to develop biofuels from agriculture waste
and
abandoned farmland, Igarashi said.

The project will test its biofuel on a "flex-fuel vehicle", which can
run on
any mixture of gasoline and green fuels and which is gaining popularity
in
the rest of the world as the battle against global warming heats up.

But Japan has no flex-fuel vehicles even though Japanese car companies
Honda
Motor Co. Ltd. and Toyota Motor Corp. produce them for the market in
Brazil.
So the team imported a red Ford Focus from Britain for the project.

With one 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice needed to produce 0.5 litre of
ethanol, the main challenge will be creating a low cost biofuel that
can
compete with ordinary gasoline, which is now sold at around 135 yen
($1.13)
a litre, including gasoline related taxes of some 56 yen.

© Reuters 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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