Scientists Try Algae ‘Alchemy’ to Grow Oil in Paddies
by Shigeru Sato and Yuji Okada (Bloomberg Business Week) As Japan’s rice fields turn fallow and its farming communities decline, a new army of workers is preparing to make the countryside fertile again. This time the crop is motor fuel and the laborers are microscopic algae.
…Now companies including Toyota Motor Corp. and refiner Idemitsu Kosan Co. may join a study into the microorganisms that can turn waste water into oil, scrub carbon dioxide out of the air and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
…Watanabe said he met a production target of 1,000 metric tons per hectare a year in a laboratory experiment. He will attempt to reproduce that outcome at a 1.5 billion-yen ($16 million) open-air pilot project at Tsukuba’s campus in Ibaraki prefecture near Tokyo starting in September.
Costs are about 800 yen a liter, compared with gasoline, which retails for about 130 yen in Tokyo, Watanabe said. He estimates he can reduce costs sufficiently by 2022 to compete with ordinary oil products.
…State-run Tsukuba, which has had two Nobel Prize-winning physicists and a chemist on its faculty, wants to pilot a new nationwide study, acting both as a major research center and as a clearinghouse for information about other projects around the country, Watanabe said. READ MORE