Rice Ethanol Replaces Oil, Saves Farm Jobs

Japan, a first-world industrial powerhouse, has always had a problem sourcing oil to run its factories, heat its homes and fuel its cars - it has no domestic supplies. An ambitious nuclear program has helped in some ways but atomic energy, contrary to sci-fi writers' fantasies, won't keep the nation's cars & trucks on the road. Now a home-grown solution has come along that may go far towards weaning Japan off her addiction to foreign oil: ethanol made from rice.

A pilot conversion plant set to begin operation in Niigata, northern Japan will reach its full capacity of 1,000 kilolitres a year by March 2009. The plant will be managed by the National Federation of Agriculture Co-operative Associations (Zen-Noh) and half of the seed money (about $15 million) is being provided by the Japanese government. As well, the prefectural government has promised to suspend land and building taxes on the ethanol plant.

American ethanol plant using cornAmerican ethanol plant using corn
Why rice? Japan's agricultural infrastructure is based on rice and successive governments have always catered to the needs of rice farmers, seen as traditional providers in times of need. The problem is, Japanese as a whole are eating less and less rice each year and many rice farmers are abandoning their fields.

Now they have a new reason to cultivate those plots - the government will be paying farmers to grow two types of super-harvest rice suitable for ethanol conversion.

If successful in the long term, the Niigata plant and two others on the drawing board will keep farmers busy, reduce dependence on oil and help Japan meet its commitments under the Kyoto Accord. (via Planet Ark)

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer