The Nikkei reports that Idemitsu Kosan Co. and Mitsubishi Corp. plan to mass-produce cellulosic ethanol using a production method developed by Honda Motor Co. and the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) to convert rice straw and weeds into ethanol (earlier post).
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.
Idemistu and Mitsubishi will reportedly bring into operation one of the world’s largest cellulosic ethanol plants as early as 2011, with output capacity estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 kiloliters (53 million to 132 million gallons US) per year.
Potential sites for the plant include North America, China and Southeast Asia, where large amounts of non-food vegetation can be secured at a low price, according to the report.
Establishing a joint venture with local firms, Mitsubishi and Idemitsu plan to ship the ethanol to surrounding areas and to Japan. The trading house will oversee sourcing of the nonfood materials and supply routes, while the oil distributor will focus on production and marketing. They will aim to keep production costs at about 30 yen per liter [about US$1.05 per gallon], competitive with the 30-40 yen for imported ethanol made from food materials.
The Japanese government has set a bioethanol consumption goal of 800,000 kl (211 million gallons US) by 2010 and 6 million kiloliters (1.6 billion gallons US) by 2030.