Japan experiments with seaweed as biofuel
Photo: Xosé Castro | Flickr

Japan experiments with seaweed as biofuel

As birthplace of the Kyoto Protocol, Japan is one of the pioneering countries in climate change policy and research. In 1990, Japan pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 6 percent by 2012. One of their proposed stratagems for meeting this goal is to replace the 132 million gallons of gasoline that Japan car drivers use with a biofuel option.

Domestic biofuel production has always been difficult in land-lacking Japan, which in the past had to consider importing biofuel from countries like Brazil as its primary means of obtaining ethanol.

However, Japanese researchers at Mitsubishi and The University of Tokyo are now experimenting with ways to extract ethanol from seaweed.

Researchers from Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Mitsubishi Research Institute, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and several other private-sector firms envision a 10,000-square-kilometer (3,860-square-mile) seaweed farm at Yamatotai, a shallow fishing area in the middle of the Sea of Japan. They claim a farm of this scale could produce about 20 million kiloliters (5.3 billion gallons) of bioethanol per year, which is equivalent to one-third the 60 million kiloliters (16 billion gallons) of gasoline that Japan consumes each year.

The process of creating, processing, and transporting the seaweed biofuel would all be done offshore, and if the technology is viable, could be considered the first major “offshore” biofuel operation.

Another clever biofuel process being considered down in Japan exploits another resource Japan has in bulk: scrap wood.

Bio Ethanol Japan Kansai is testing a new technology that may provide another option. The company succeeded last January in operating the world’s first plant to produce bioethanol out of scrap wood. The plant uses a genetically modified bacteria called KO11 to ferment wood into ethanol. It is designed for an annual capacity of 370,000 gallons of bioethanol through processing 48,000 tons of scrap wood.

Found on Grist.