By on May 30, 2013

Rice field - Picture courtesy

Kawasaki Heavy Industries has developed “technology to produce fuel for cars from farm waste at a cost that is competitive with imported ethanol made from food products, such as sugar cane,” Reuters says.

Ethanol “can help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2), which contributes to global warming, but the cost of production and competition with food supplies tempers its appeal,” the wire says. A study showed  that ethanol could be made from rice straw at a cost of $1.60 per gallon. Adding the costs for gathering straw waste, the gallon would cost $3.20  to make. That compares with $3.20 to $4 per gallon of imported Brazilian ethanol.

Not so fast, says Japan’s farm ministry, figuring that “ it would take about five years before commercial production of ethanol from non-food products would be economically viable.”

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19 Comments on “Kampai! Japanese Make Ethanol From Straw...”

  • avatar

    Cool, que the E85 haters in 3…2..1.

    • 0 avatar

      E85 sucks.

      • 0 avatar

        Not when your running 20+ pounds of boost and this stuff is in some areas a little over 3 bucks a gallon. Its far cheaper than any of the road legal 100+ octane or pure race stuff.

        I’m not quite there yet since my avatar is still my DD but oh man, I’m just one new car away from a new lower pulley, tune, injectors, and fuel pump and some serious road gobbling horsepower.

    • 0 avatar


      Yes, and here is one of them: EtOH is simply not good for cars, longterm.
      But, anyway, this is old hat: you can make ethanol from a lot of things, including garbage and algae.
      Now, if only they made butanol from straw economically, they would be accomplishing a breakthrough.


      • 0 avatar

        Ethanol is not good for engines designed to run on gasoline. If ethanol production became practical enough, engines can be designed to run on ethanol that equal gasoline engines for performance and efficiency.

    • 0 avatar

      I personally feel Energy needs to be just like nuclear missile defense: it needs to be LAYERED.

      Make the energy which is most efficient and easy to mine the prevalent energy of any given area.

      If Japan somehow figures out how to use fast-growing bamboo as fuel, then make it so.

      In fact they should be injecting them with steroids to make them grow as fast as possible. Bamboo farms dude!!!

  • avatar

    I do not support E15, nor do I support using foodstuffs for ethanol. However, I recognize that waste is bad and ethanol has beneficial uses, so this is good news. However, we’ll just have to wait and see if it is scalable.

  • avatar

    If they are so smart, let’s see them sell this technology for real.

  • avatar

    I know this is TTAC and not The Truth About Rice but farmers rarely throw things away so this would be diverting the rice straw from its current production stream to ethanol production. So, what is the consequence? Anyone have any clue? Do they feed the rice straw to livestock (byproduct then is increased feed/meat prices)? Do they compost it to ammend their soil (byproduct is increased fertilizer/grain costs)? And so on.

    • 0 avatar

      The feedstock for ethanol production is generally still usable after the ethanol is extracted, e.g. corn mash is fed to livestock. It’s quite possible that the used rice straw would be usable in the same way.

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    The quest to product ethanol from lignocellulostic wastes has been going on since the first gas crises inthe 70s. There are periodical press releaes claiming the the technology is just aroud the corner, but somehow the train stops before the that corner.
    So far, no commercial sized process that can produce ethanol for less than the cost of fermenting corn or sugar has been developed.
    Lignin is a bitch!

  • avatar

    Let’s see, five years ago, ethanol from cellulose was 5 years away. Now it is only 5 years away. At this rate, it will have to compete with hydrogen or cold-fusion generated electricity for the privilege of fueling the 2019 Moller Skycar. Wait a minute, I forgot about thorium.

  • avatar

    If you just used the straw to co-fire an electrical generation plant, and used the electricity to feed EVs, you would get about 3 times the miles per tonne of straw (that’s not a guess – it’s actually calculated). So long as fossil fuels are still being used to generate electricity, I don’t see the environmental advantage of ethanol, cellulosic or otherwise.

    The real technological hurdle isn’t making ethanol from cellulose, it is making EVs attractive enough that a significant number of people will actually use them.

  • avatar

    Good information, but it depends on how the technology proliferates. So if this company gets investment and starts/producing distributing cheaper ethanol, make it so. But if this firm simply sells out the patent/process to Satan, er Monsanto, nothing improves.

  • avatar

    I make a point to go out of my way to purchase Ethonal free gas, it is the devil, no need to explain here.

    But it’s funny they believe reducing CO2 emmisions is a reason to do anything, cute in a way.

    • 0 avatar

      CO2 my Japanese butt. You did know that Japan has almost no natural resources? Let alone energy sources. The whole fuss about the tiny Diaoyu islands with China is all about oil.

      Wrong conclusion, cute in a way.

  • avatar

    Below are some links with more detailed project descriptions.
    The Kawasaki project has three steps: pulverizing, hydrothermal saccharification and yeast fermentation. The first speaks for itself. Hydrothermal saccharification is nothing more than ‘cooking’ it in pressurized water from 300F to 480F. With the cooking you break down the cellulose into glucose (hence saccharification). You have to optimize between temperature, reaction time and equipment costs. The research is mostly needed on getting the right reaction conditions for your biomass source otherwise you end up having decomposed too much or too little glucose. Having a homogenous feedstock is certainly going to help. The glucose you feed to some yeast that makes alcohol/ethanol just like in brewing beer/wine/spirits.

    The other projects mentioned use similar techniques but sometimes the process is ‘helped’ with alkaline components.

    I hope somebody finds this information useful. I’m working on a similar process but then with verge grass in the Netherlands.

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