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Japan to back third farm waste ethanol project

Japan has approved a third test project to make ethanol from farm waste with subsidies to pay for building and running of plants totalling about US$32 million over five years, the Agriculture Ministry said Nov. 18.

Several countries including resource-poor Japan are working on enzymes and other processing technologies to unlock more energy from the waste products of farming, such as rice straw, and forestry.

The advantage of the resulting cellulosic ethanol is that it does not use food crops such as corn as raw materials.

The latest project in Japan was a joint venture by a unit of Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and an agricultural public corporation led by the prefectural government of Akita in northern Japan, a ministry official said.

The ministry set aside 3.2 billion yen (US$33 million) for the year to next March to support projects to run a small test plant with daily output of up to 1,000 litres (one kilolitre) at costs possibly low enough for commercial production.

The ministry has said it would shoulder 50 per cent of estimated costs to build a cellulosic ethanol plant and 100 per cent of a plant’s running costs during a research and development period.

In July, the ministry approved two smaller plants by two joint ventures – one in the northern island of Hokkaido by general contractor Taisei Corp. and beer company Sapporo Holdings and another one in Hyogo prefecture, western Japan, by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and a group led by the Hyogo prefectural government.

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