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Viability of Mitsubishi Heavy cellulosic ethanol technology verified; MHI looking to commercialize it with partners

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) has successfully developed technology to produce cellulosic ethanol for automobile fuel satisfying the standards of the Japanese Automotive Standards Organization (JASO) from feedstocks such as rice straw and barley straw.

Verification of the technology was conducted as a joint project involving the government, academia, and the agricultural and industrial sectors in Hyogo Prefecture, supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), to study effective utilization of lignocellulose. During the technological verification at a demonstration plant, the estimated fuel cost required for commercial-scale ethanol production was also confirmed to achieve the targeted goal.

Going forward MHI will endeavor to develop the results of the project into early commercialization of bio-refinery technology in cooperation with companies and organizations concerned.

The demonstration project to produce cellulosic bioethanol has been under way since 2008 jointly with the Hyogo Prefectural Government, the Hyogo Environmental Advancement Association (HEAA) and other entities. MHI jointly with Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co., Ltd. and Kansai Chemical Engineering Co., Ltd. was responsible for verification of the bioethanol production processes.

Initially, each of the three participating companies took charge of specific areas based on their expertise and conducted verification testing at their own research facility. Starting in December 2009 the entire process to produce ethanol from lignocellulose was verified at a demonstration plant built specifically for the project at MHI’s Futami Plant in Hyogo. Rice and barley straws, the feedstocks, were provided by a local farmers association. HEAA, the Hyogo Prefectural Technology Center for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and Mitsubishi Agricultural Machinery Co., Ltd. were responsible for the verification of effective technologies relating to feedstock collection, transportation and storage.

Among the various production processes, MHI was responsible for preprocessing and saccharification; Hakutsuru Sake Brewing for fermentation; and Kansai Chemical Engineering for distillation and dehydration.

For preprocessing and saccharification, MHI adopted a hydrothermal treatment system that enables continuous processing of feedstocks; MHI made improvements to the technologies, which were jointly developed with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The new system can produce the sugar component more efficiently than by conventional methods using only hot compressed water and enzyme, MHI says. The demonstration testing focused on the system’s performance stability and continuous operability and on optimization of the amount of enzyme to be applied.

In conjunction with the fermentation process, Hakutsuru Sake Brewing, in cooperation with Kobe University, established a technology to convert sugar originating from rice and barley straws into ethanol by use of yeasts. The yeasts are selected from those actually in use or those bred with non genetically modified organism (Non-GMO) technology.

Kansai Chemical Engineering verified distillation and dehydration technologies for producing bioethanol that satisfies automotive fuel standards. The technologies involve use of a new type of distillation column developed by the company which enables longer continuous operation than conventional systems, and a liquid phase adsorption type dehydration unit that enables processing with less energy than existing gas phase types.

The results of these various tests confirmed that biofuel satisfying JASO standards can be produced continuously, and they validated optimal operation conditions when using rice and barley straws as feedstocks. At the same time, based on the verification results, the bioethanol production cost was estimated for a commercial-scale plant to be built in Hyogo Prefecture. It was confirmed that total running costs from collection and transportation of feedstocks to ethanol production can be achieved below the target of ¥90 per liter ($4.17/gallon US).

The technology for extracting sugar from lignocellulose verified by MHI has been drawing attention not only for its feasible application to ethanol production but also as a technology applicable to the production of basic material for bio-plastics.

MHI now plans to make the demonstration plant used in this project available to other business operators in Japan and abroad who are developing applications of feedstock material other than straw and targeting production of non-ethanol products. Going forward the company will continue its pursuit of early establishment of technologies for commercial-scale bio-refinery, including bioethanol, and it will seek order receipts for both experimental and commercial systems based on its proprietary technologies in cooperation with companies and organizations concerned.



If I were making cars, I would be making fuels. You can spend the price of the car again in fuel costs over the first 10 years. I would do much more than GM investing a bit in Coskata.

I would band together with other auto makers and talk with coal, natural gas and farmers to start a synthetic fuels program. They could make more on fuels than cars and sell into a ready made market that promotes their own products.


@ SJC:

That's great idea. I wonder why the automobile and aircraft manufacturers haven't persued it. Could anti trust laws have something to do with it?


@ SJC:

I think that would work best if you had a proprietary fuel source that you could make high margins on. Then you'd do razors/razor-blades with low cost cars. However, given the cost of fuel distribution would be hard for even GM to get the economies of scale on fuel distribution. Maybe if your fuel source was a tiny thorium reactor or something you got replaced at your 6,000 or 15,000 mile service calls it would work.


You just work through the existing fuel distribution network. If the oil companies tried to interfere you would bring an antitrust legal action against them.

Fuel is fungible, it may be delivered by a Chevron truck but it came from a tank farm 50 miles away near a refinery. Certainly independents like USA or Kroeger could and would sell the gasoline at their stations. If the oil companies tried to influence the distributors, you sue their behinds off.


SJC...this could be a quick way to back track to 10 mpg fuel guzzlers. When and if car makers also produce the essential fuels, you can rest assured that they would produce heavier vehicles to double fuel consumption in no time at all. That is the nature of the beast.


Not really, the world market for oil is tightening with harder to find oil, India and China driving more and transportation in general increasing.

The market price for oil and gasoline will continue to rise and become a larger part of owning and driving a car year after year. People understand economy and efficiency, some may want Super Duty and large SUVs, but we will charge a guzzler tax at the dealer and states can quadruple the registration fees on such vehicles. If you want to be wasteful, you better be wealthy.

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