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Japan’s Energy Policy Review; From E3 to E10 by 2020

4 June 2006

A review of Japan’s energy policy by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry concluded that the country must improve its energy efficiency by 30% and reduce its dependency on crude oil from 50% today to less than 40% by 2030 to cope with surging oil prices. The ministry released the final version of the review last week.

Japan, with almost no oil reserves of its own, is the world’s third-largest oil consumer after the US and China, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Japan consumed an estimated 5.35 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil in 2004, down from 5.50 million bpd in 2003.

Among the recommendations in the review are boosting the efficiency of cars and appliances, increasing the proportion of crude oil production developed directly by Japanese firms from 15% today to 40% by 2030, and increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 3% (E3) to 10% (E10) by 2020. The review also suggests maintaining or boosting nuclear energy to contribute 30-40% or higher to total energy production.

A report by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) notes that Japan’s move toward biofuels will be affected by the limited prospects for domestic production of biofuels due to the country’shrinking agricultural production.

In order for biofuels to be adopted nationwide, Japan would need to import either the raw commodities or the biofuels...If Japan were to expand its biofuels use it would essentially be substituting petroleum imports for biofuel imports. For Japan the prospect of moving toward renewable fuels simply substitutes dependence on oil producers with dependence on grain producers.

One of the main drivers for a biomass policy is Japan’s commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. The country’s first biomass strategy incorporated a 2003 decision to allow blends of up to 3% ethanol (E3).

There are six government-sponsored feasibility studies evaluating the potential for domestic biofuel production in Japan, exploring the use of wood waste, monster cane, and molasses, among others. Current ethanol production in Japan uses sugar cane.

The FAS report also notes, however, that:

In Japan, there is not a noticeable consumer movement toward renewable fuels. Although hybrid vehicles are frequently seen about the country, the main factors driving consumer decisions are (a) passing Japan’s strict emissions tests and (b) the price of gasoline...

Given industry’s reluctance and the lack of market potential for domestic crops, Japan’s renewable fuels prospects are largely guided by government policy rather than market forces.

Japan has been increasing its partnership with Brazil and Brazilian companies over ethanol production and imports.

The Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy granted the review preliminary approval by and will formally adopted it this month. The recommendations will be incorporated into an overhaul of the government’s energy strategy slated for this fall.


June 4, 2006 in Ethanol, Japan | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack (0)


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Substituting fossil fuel imports by agricultural imports makes sense in that the latter can be obtained from more and more agreeable sources. Also, ethanol yields a net reduction of CO2 emissions. Its size depends on where Japan decides gets its ethanol from. Mandating E10 nationwide instead makes sense because national energy security is an issue on which responsible consumers do not want to give the selfish ones a free ride.

In the same vein, Japan should perhaps look at importing more biodiesel for its commercial vehicles and buses. The fuel system retrofits required are fairly cheap. The country would also be wise to welcome back modern, clean light duty diesel vehicles. As in the US, there is a lot of outdated prejudice regarding noise and pollution. Can Japan afford the luxury of cocking a snoot at any viable technology for reducing its energy consumption? Honda and Toyota have both developed good diesel engines for the European market. Hybrids are a great option, but it's better to have more than one.

What concerns me most about the above article is the suggestion - suitably greenwashed by association with ethanol - of ramping up the country's dependence on nuclear power even further. Given that about 10% of all earthquakes in the world occur in Japan, is there a safe location to store the radioactive waste? Are the reactors themselves really impervious to ground movement? Seismic events aside, as the Tokaimura incident proved, Japan's safety record in regular nuclear operations is far from stellar (nor is Britain's):

I would suggest the development of PHEV's. Tied into wind, solar or ocean wave/current electric generation inlined to the grid system, I believe that this method would be the best approach to oil reduction in Japan, the US and even for my home state, Hawaii.

I do not believe ethanol is the answer because it causes soil depletion. We really need our soil for growing food.

[email protected]

Adrian, I'm inclined to think like you but some countries, like continental USA, Brazil, Australia and Canada, have enough land surfaces to supply all the feedstock required to produce enough cellulosic ethanol for many millions PHEV, especially if future batteries supply power for the first 60 to 100 Km.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for Japan and other densely populated countries. Improved PHEVs + EVs + sun + wind + wave power may be the best long term sustainable solution for them. Japan can no doubt do most of it within one generation.


Any highly electrified country that seriously wants to reduce it's CO2 emissions needs to have nuclear heavily in it's power generation mix. Hydro and geothermal are the only renewables that are economically competitive for baseload generation. Wind and solar replace fossil but are not affordable for baseload.

Japan has about half the reactors as the US. Two additional are under construction and 11 more are in planning. Their reactors are carefully designed to avoid seismic damage and have scrammed flawlessly on numerous occasions. (Scramming is an emergency shutdown when a sensor detects an upset condition such as but not limited to an earthquake.)

The Japanese don't plan to store used fuel as high level waste. They are committed to recycling their fuel. This creates a different waste stream than the current US plan of storing intact used fuel. The Japanese waste stream will be turned into synthetic rocks before cavern storage. Synthetic rocks are extrodinarily stable.

They are also planning on using fast breeder reactors which can be used to "incinerate" the Actinide waste products which are most of the really long lived ones.

Environmentalist will have to come to accept the fact that nuclear energy will have to play a very big role in any serious plan to reduce CO2 emissions. It is another of those "inconvient truths" that wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy source cannot provide the level of reliable electricity needed by industrial nations.

Plug in hybrid vehicles don't look all that green when they are plugged into a coal fired electric generator.

"he Japanese waste stream will be turned into synthetic rocks before cavern storage. Synthetic rocks are extrodinarily stable."

That's the first I've ever heard of this. Sounds fascinating. Would you happen to have a link handy where there's more information on the process?


For a good summary of the Japanese nuclear industry, go to and look at the country briefing papers. There are also good papers on nuclear waste treatment.

Environmentalist will have to come to accept the fact that nuclear energy will have to play a very big role in any serious plan to reduce CO2 emissions.

No, they won't.

If they dont, then what?

I have to laugh about the people who say that environmentalists have to face the fact that we "must" use fission nuclear power. How do you know? If the federal government subsidized green energy to the degree that they have nuclear, coal, and oil we probably would not even be considering nuclear. It is estimated that if we had 100 square miles of solar stirling machines ala
They would be able to replace all coal fired plants in the US.
Carl Sagan calculate that 1,000,000 windmills IN THE EARLY NINETIES would replace all the point energy sources in the US. Now if you think 1 mill is a lot then consider that far more automobiles a year that have a lot more complex moving parts are built per YEAR in the US alone.
I swear if the people who talk like that had been in charge of the Apollo moon rocket program we would never have gotten off the ground. There would have been no pioneers to settle the West Coast we probably would not even have harnessed fire. I can only imagine that conversation: OG:"Fire warm maybe catch it" UG: "No fire beyond skill only angry lightning gods give", OG:"You right us not smart enough never will be, we give up you too right with common sense"

I wanted to give a better reference Sandia National Laboratory estimate "A solar dish farm covering 11 square miles hypothetically could produce as much electricity per year as Hoover Dam, and a farm 100 miles by 100 miles in the southwestern U.S. could provide as much electricity as is needed to power the entire country." Now if you think that is some whackey environmentalist dream, that is the Sandia National Labs baby! So stop spouting you're so called common sense unless you know what they H you are talking about!

Well put Jim. It's not a question of picking your poison: global warming or radioactive waste (and risk). We don't want either poison, we want renewable energy. In electricity generation, that means photovoltaics + hydro, perhaps windmills and tidal as well. For transportation, that means fuels (preferably liquid), such as ethanol, biodiesel or BTL synthetics.

If you look at just the cost of production and/or refining alone, these alternatives look very expensive. If, on the other hand, you also look at the cost of military intervention to secure the status quo and, the future environmental cost of today's dominant energy technologies, then the economics for renewables change dramatically. Taxpayers and voters, take off your blinkers!

Hopefully common sense will prevail. Nuclear power combined with breeder reactors for waste recycling does work.

50 years from now I would rather be living with another chernobyl style disaster or two vs runnaway global warming. With a nuclear disaster tens of thousands of people may die. With runaway global warming the earth dies.

Nuclear power can be ran without disasters with newer designs. No matter what you do the runaway burning of coal and oil will bring us to global warming. We need to stop burning coal and oil to make electricity.

When we run out of places to put wind turbines, and when all we have left are roof-owners who refuse to have (free!) solar cells installed in their roofs, and when the citizens uprise when Congress legislates more efficient appliances, then the environmentalists will have to make room for nuclear power.

Until then, there is plenty of opportunity in other aspects of our energy collection and use to reduce our carbon output. This is the inconvenient truth for pro-nuclear enthusiasts. Maybe we'll need it, but we don't know now because there are other "low hanging fruit" to be cultivated first.

Environmentalists have always demonized nuclear technology. Should we have an all nuclear power grid? I don't think so.

Should we use nuclear power for such activities as space exploration? Yes, definitely. In fact, the NERVA rockets from the mid 60s still have 3 TIMES the impulse of the most advanced rocket being used today.

It is hypothesized that covering South Dakota with wind generators could give enough power for the entire nation and using the desert area of the southwest for solar power could power the entire nation. While consolidated all the power resources in one area would make maintenance easier distribution of that power makes either one an unlikely occurrence (did we already forget what happened to New York not too long ago when the power grid failed - it wasn't the powerplant that failed).

BTW- hydro leads to as much or MORE CO2 emissions than a coal fired plant of the same power output whenever used in a region with a lot of vegetation. As the artificial "lake" is created by a dam many plants (not normally submerged or capable of living in that condition) die off and start to decompose releasing quite a bit of CO2.

Patrick -

I would not take the South Dakota thing too literally, it was probably intended to indicate the scale required. Any actual shift toward solar electricity in th US would be based on a collection of smaller solar farms dotted around various states. This would not only aid in distribution but also afford some protection against locally bad weather incl. destructive storms. It would also allow Congressmen to bring home the bacon, as it were, since the taxpayer would have to fund such a shift in pursuit of energy security and environmental objectives.

As for hydro, it doesn't cause CO2 emissions, at worst it removes a carbon sink. Many dams, e.g. the Powell and Hoover dams across the Colorado river, are built in areas that had little vegitation to begin with (valuable perhaps for biodiversity but not for CO2 capture). Where that is clearly not the case (e.g. Three Gorges dam in China), the puropse of the dam is often flood control which permits compensating increases downstram via intensified agriculture.

In theory, it would also be possible to erect floating structures for growing crops on these artifical lakes, as the Aztecs did on Lake Titicaca or the Cambodians in Angkor Wat. Floating solar parks would be another option, using photovoltaics combined with stirling engines. The water would act as the heat sink and evaporation would still be sharply reduced.

Btw, many smaller hydro plants (e.g. Freudenau on the Danube in Vienna) make do with just a few meters difference in the water level and cause virtually no inundation at all.

> Taxpayers and voters, take off your blinkers!

That's _blinders_. Please do keep, and use, your blinkers.

Sorry, couldn't resist :-)

Solar has two widely overlooked advantages. It can use the cheapest undesired land and it need not cause political problems. But hydro, fossil, biomass, wind, and nuclear all have severe limits in those areas.

In the long run the economics favor solar. Solar's real problem is effective overnight storage of the plentiful power generated in the day. I advocate pumping water uphill during the day which makes it available for hydro at night. This is not very efficient but it is simple and does not require delay for battery improvements. Wind can also use this method.

K -

I completely concur. Only when the distance to market becomes extremely large or, there are no existing large hydro dams, might it make sense to store the energy chemically via hydrocarbon synthesis using H2 from electrolysis and CO2 from a conventional power plant. The concentration of CO2 in the general atmosphere is too low for anything but biological harvesting.

Fuel synthesis driven by photovoltaics might be a sensible way to reduce the CO2 footprint of coal power plants by 50% in e.g. arid zones such as the southwestern USA, Australia or South Africa. Not sure if it would be economical, though.

The last numbers I saw showed the installed capital cost of on-shore wind to be approximately $2000/MW. The projected cost for the next generation of nucs is projected between $2100 and $1700/MW (first of a kind units are projected at the higher number, follow on units are the lower). A wind turbine generates when the wind blows and the "on" time for a good wind location is approximately 40%. Nuclear power is "off" for refuel and occasionally for other maintenance. Typical "on" time is about 90%.

If we say the capital cost for capacity are the same, wind is 2-1/2 times more expensive for actual generated power. (This ignores the cost of fuel for the nuc plant which is real but relatively low.)

The capital cost for pv-solar is approximately $7000/MW. The "on" time is about the same as wind (in the desert southwest summer). Thermal-solar is a little bit lower in capital but higher than wind and has the same "on" time as pv-solar.

I don't know the economics on distributed pv-solar but my suspicions are that the capital would be lower than centralized because the roofs would be "free" but that power conditioning costs would be higher.(Same conditioning issue but many more smaller units) My expectations are that the two costs would cancel each other out.

As an interesting exercise for pv-solar advocates (or skeptics), go up on a solar panel retail sales site and get the cost of a larger panel. Multiply the cost by enough panels to reach 1,000,000 watts. Then take 15% off for a volume purchase. This will give you a first order of magnitude for comparison. You may want to add in a little for land, support structures and power conditioning. This will give you a 1MW plant that works 40% of the time (in Arizona).

The most cost effective solar application that I know of (other than passive heating in new construction) is a distributed one: domestic hot water. I operated a system for several years when solar installation was subsidized in the late 70's. We couldn't run out of hot water if we tried.

Hey, thanks for the link, Bill. Fascinating read!

What may make sense for storage of excess daytime solar power for night use is the H2 -> stationary fuel cell cycle. Right now that may be too expensive and innefficient, but cost is dropping and efficiency is improving in those areas. The H2 could be stored in large volume containers at low pressure to reduce the system losses since size is much less of an issue for stationary power generating systems. Systems could take advantage of the solar thermal energy for high temperature electrolysis if it were designed for that purpose.

Nuclear facilities are tempting and easy (since 2001) "terrorist" targets, so expect reasonable and strong NIMBY reactions until the west stops encouraging and sponsoring terror with all these wars of aggression and covert false flag operations.

For several years, when commuting, I passed a large vertical industrial facility that was used to heat treat metal products in hydrogen at high temperature. It was about 40 feet from the road.

I have worked in nuclear manufacturing for over 40 years. I feel much safer at work than when driving by the hydrogen furnace.

Just saw "Silkwood" Hope things have changed. Of course if an hydrogen furnace goes off it won't leave the land barren like around Chernobyl and we won't have to worry about nuclear waste for thousands of years.

Algae oil, with its yields of >5,000 gallons/acre, could fit the energy needs for Japan. Running off of farm runoff and processed sewage waste, the process could be trialed pretty quickly. Syngas ops could turn the oil/biomass into many organic materials, including ethanol.

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