Japan looks to ethanol

By | November 01, 2002
A Japenese environment ministry study group will propose a policy of blending ethanol into gasoline to create a cleaner fuel for motor vehicles in Japan.

The initial goal is to help the nation achieve its greenhouse gas reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol. But the ultimate aim is to have the blended fuel, with a plant-derived ethanol content of 10 percent, completely replace regular gasoline, according to the group headed by Waseda University professor Katsuya Nagata. The group, which includes scientists and representatives of the auto industry, was set up to study technology to deal with global warming.

For its part, the ministry will promote the spread of vehicles capable of using the blended fuel. The ministry intends to begin the switch as early as 2008.

The Kyoto Protocol obliges Japan to reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide by 6 percent from the 1990 level during the period from 2008 to 2012.

The study group determined that motor vehicles belch out about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Japan. If regular gasoline is converted to the blended fuel, it would be possible to reduce emissions by 1 percent from the 1990 level, according to the study group.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has already started to develop a system to promote the spread of low-concentration blended gasoline containing between 1 percent and 5 percent plant-derived ethanol.

The Environment Ministry in fiscal 2003 will conduct safety tests to establish whether the low-concentration blended gasoline can be used in existing vehicles. The ministry also plans to set up and subsidize low-concentration blended fuel pumps at gasoline stands in some regions.

The cost of the ethanol-gasoline mix is currently about 30 percent higher than that of regular gasoline, mainly because ethanol must be refined after being imported.

But the price will come down to the level of regular gasoline when the government lowers the tariff on ethanol and improves the refining process.