TOKYO Japan is set to embark on a five-year
plan this year to harness a new form of energy using unused
wood biomass to produce auto fuels and other industrial
products currently made from imported petrol.
Japan, where two-thirds of the country is covered by
forests, can supply a part of alternative fuels made from
wood-origin ethanol as well as raw materials for plastic and
The Ministry of Agriculture said on Friday it was to set
aside a total of 1.2 billion yen ($11.2 million) in the next
fiscal year's budget to support a few private projects to
develop an alternative processing system to that of the
petrochemical industry, pending parliament approval.
Satoshi Ishihara, director of the technology development
office at the ministry's Forest Agency, said up to 10 billion
yen of the total subsidy would be used for a project or
projects using the wood for cellulosic ethanol technology.
"We're looking for a cellulosic technology using enzymes
and yeasts to cut down the size of such a plant," Ishihara told
Reuters on the sideline of a gathering of potential project
operators in Tokyo.
Cellulosic is expected to create several billions of
dollars in an industry globally in enzymes and fermentation
organisms, which help break down the tough bits of the plants
into ethanol, as the world seeks economic and
environmentally-friendly ways to produce a renewable fuel.
Japan's sole commercial cellulosic plant in Sakai city in
Osaka prefecture, western Japan, uses an acid process to
produce ethanol from waste wood collected in construction
When the next fiscal year starts in April, the farm
ministry also has plans to spend a total of 3.2 billion yen to
support a few consortiums comprising farmers, engineers and
regional governments to produce ethanol from non-food soft
plant parts such as rice stems and use it locally.
Japan, the world's fifth-biggest emitter of greenhouse
gases, has a target to replace 500,000 kilo liters in crude oil
equivalent of auto use of energy with biofuels in fiscal
Japanese law allows oil distributors to sell gasoline
blended with up to 3 percent ethanol. But the circulation of
such alternative fuels is so far limited to government-backed
(Reporting by Risa Maeda, editing by Jacqueline Wong)