Converting CO2 Back to Fuel
AFS Trinity Files Patent for Plug-In Drivetrain; Focus on Affordability

RITE and Honda R&D Jointly Develop Cellulosic Ethanol Technology and Process

The RITE strain responsible for fermentation: Corynebacterium glutamicum.

Collaborative research between the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) and Honda R&D Co., Ltd., the Honda Motor Co., Ltd. subsidiary responsible for research and development, has resulted in technology and process for the production of ethanol from cellulosic soft-biomass such as the leaves and stalks of plants.

The RITE-Honda process uses a bacterial strain developed by RITE that ferments sugar into alcohol and applies Honda engineering technology to enable a “significant increase” in alcohol conversion efficiency in comparison to conventional cellulosic bio-ethanol production processes, according to the partners.

The process consists of the following steps:

  • Pretreatment to separate cellulose from soft-biomass;

  • Saccharification of cellulose and hemicellulose;

  • Fermentation of sugar into ethanol using microorganisms; and

  • Ethanol refinement.

Current approaches allow fermentation inhibitors, collaterally formed primarily during the process of separating cellulose and hemicellulose from soft-biomass, to interfere with the function of microorganisms that convert sugar into alcohol, leading to low ethanol yield. The RITE-Honda process reduces the influence of fermentation inhibitors.

The process is based on the use of an engineered strain of Corynebacterium glutamicum developed by RITE that converts five- (pentose) and six- (hexose) carbon sugars into alcohol.

RITE’s Microbiology Research Group engineered C. glutamicum to broaden its substrate utilization range to include the pentose sugar xylose. The researchers also engineered the bacterium to produce ethanol under oxygen-deprived conditions. Fermentation under such a state reduces or eliminates cellular growth and increases ethanol volumetric productivity.

RITE is also working with cellulases and hemicellulases (enzymes that breakdown celluose and hemicelluose) from Clostridium cellulovorans.

RITE and Honda will pursue research for mass production, including development of systems to integrate the four operations, currently operated independently, into a continuous flow within one plant, recycling energy to pursue energy conservation and cost reduction.

A demonstration project is envisioned within a pilot plant to assess the social compatibility and economic efficiency of the new bio-alcohol production system.

Based on the success of this collaborative research, RITE and Honda will pursue further advancement to establish a bio-refinery for production of not only ethanol, but various industrial commodities including automotive materials from biomass.

Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) was established in 1990 by the joint investment of the Japanese government and private enterprises, with the goal of conducting fundamental research on countermeasure technology for global-warming, particularly climate change. It is actively engaged in efforts to stabilize climate change through development of alternative energy research and CO2 sequestration technologies.




Is this predicting Honda vehicles with E85 capabilities may soon be produced (and possibly currently under research).

Bud Johns

If alcohol could be produced cheaply enough, we could have cars optimized to run on pure alcohol. E-85 cars are a compromise. Anyway, Bless Honda and Toyota's hearts for thier miraculous, far-sighted R&D. It makes for a better world........


I don't get it.

GM + E85 = tons of people saying they are evil/ complaining about CAFE loopholes

Honda + ethanol = ya happy happy

Sid Hoffman

This is funny considering two weeks ago Honda announced they have no plans to produce E85 capable automobiles for north America. Apparently they still see there's money in ethanol production, even if their own E85 and E100 offerings are a decade or more away.


Lou Grinzo

I see no conflict in Honda's ethanol statements and this announcement.

I think it's entirely reasonable for Honda to have a position which says, "We don't think ethanol will be a major factor in the auto industry, but there's a LOT of research going on, and if someone made a blockbuster breakthrough, that could very well change our opinion of ethanol." Therefore, they plan not to use ethanol in their cars, and honestly say so publicly, but they keep doing R&D just in case they make a breakthrough, because they don't want to be left on the sidelines if someone else makes the big discovery.

And if it's a big enough breakthrough, converting some or all of their product line to E85 is a very minor effort compared to designing a new hybrid or an EV, so they can react quickly once they have a foot in the door with the new ethanol technology.

This kind of risk balancing is exactly what I keep beating up Ford, GM, and Chrysler for not doing--they put all their eggs in light trucks, and it cost them dearly. Honda is remaining flexible and not closing off even those avenues that they don't think will be big winners. Sometimes when you do that, you find out that one of the long shots pays off, which might (or might not) be exactly what happened here. Only time will tell if this discovery turns out to be a big deal or just another footnote in our energy history.


That is not true as the US 3 are doing nearly the same thing. They see the market for hybrid vehicles and then (despite previous sentiments and statements) are now producing or planning to produce hybrids.

Lou Grinzo

Patrick: I respectfully disagree. Even if the Big Three are doing this kind of ethanol research (and I don't know if they are or aren't) and are convinced of the value of hybrids, where are their hybrids that can compete with the Prius? Why are they getting killed in the market because of their over-reliance on light trucks?

Being right but far too late is just as bad as being wrong in capitalism, and the Big Three are paying a huge price for being woefully late to the hybrid party.


Don't forget that Honda seems to be farther along in the development of HCCI engines. From what I know, ethanol would be a more better fuel for that type of engine, due to it's higher octane rating. These 2 items could go hand-in-hand and produce some real benefits. An HCCI engine running on ethanol would virtually negate the range/mpg losses from the lower energy content of ethanol (as compared to gasoline).

Bud Johns

Lou, you were right on in your first post, thanks. As for the second one, not only do we not see anything from the big three to even come close to the Prius, exactly 1 year from now comes Gen 3. I'm trading my '05 in for one, if I'm still above ground!!!


You know I really enjoy coming to this site, because it is one of the few places that engineers, scientist, or informed enthusiasts come and actually post useful well thought out information. Unfortunately, as with all forums, it also attracts many narrow minded, naïve, and uninformed individuals that are too ignorant to realize that their “opinions” are useless and do not count. Can’t for the engineers and informed enthusiasts to find this thread.


...and as I put in my first post and is now reinforced by the latest article on greencarcongress...


Switching production line from gasoline to flex-fuel vehicle is as cheap and simple as paint car body in two different colors. It is sad to see that flex-fuel vehicles are introduced and receipted as big technological step forward. It is not.

The difference between introduction of flex-fuel vehicles in US and Brazil is very simple. Fuel market in Brazil is saturated with cheap sugar cane ethanol. Honda and Toyota just merely follow established demand for flex-fuel vehicles.

Totally different picture in US. Despite US produce more bioethanol then Brazil (and it is way more expensive), it is barely enough to fulfill oxygenate blending requirements. No matter how many E85 capable vehicles GM will produce, these vehicles will be long ago in junk yards before production of ethanol in US will exceed E10 (safe for all vehicles) level. Rushed massive introduction of E85 vehicles to a marked with virtual absence of E85 fuel is a fraud and public deception.

Good for Honda that they work on real problem – increase of ethanol production, not ethanol use.


The thing is, the lashings/beatings were handed out to GM/Ford/DC for "following the market" rather than leading the market with hybrids. Yet here we have Toyota & Honda following the market for E100 capable vehicles in Brazil, not leading the market. It is understandable though since Japanese manufacturers of many products have a tougher time in the Latin American markets than do US manufacturers.

Harvey D.


Sorry to disagree. After extended stays in South America, I would say that most recent vehicles on the roads in that part of the world are not from USA.

There are progressively more European, Japanese and Korean cars around and fewer Americans.

EV Rider

When Henry Ford told a New York Times reporter that ethyl alcohol was "the fuel of the future" in 1925, he was expressing an opinion that was widely shared in the automotive industry. "The fuel of the future is going to come from fruit like that sumach out by the road, or from apples, weeds, sawdust -- almost anything," he said. "There is fuel in every bit of vegetable matter that can be fermented."

Ford recognized the utility of the hemp plant. He constructed a car of resin stiffened hemp fiber, and even ran the car on ethanol made from hemp. Ford knew that hemp could produce vast economic resources if widely cultivated.

"There's enough alcohol in one year's yield of an acre of potatoes to drive the machinery necessary to cultivate the fields for one hundred years." - Henry Ford

Find out why Hemp is the only biomass resource capable of making America energy independent->
Mohammed saif al harthi

Dear sir,
I do have cellulose from fruits in millions of tons,I believe, if I do fermentation,I will be able to produce cellulose ethanol cheaper then any country in the world.
that can cheaper to abstaractand no need big technology,were I have so far I need to do fermentation
in less then 72 hours the ethanol from my cellulose will be cheaper then an ethanol produce in the world in terms of quantity we can have a big production then the ethanol produce in brazil.if honda is interested in investing into bio-refinery to produce cellulose ethanol
you are welcome.

The comments to this entry are closed.