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Sake May Fuel Japanese Cars in the Future
Japanese motorists may one day pump their cars full of sake, the fermented rice wine that is Japan's national drink, if a pilot project to create sake fuel creates an impression on locals.
The government funded project is located at Shinanomachi, 124 miles northwest of Tokyo. It will will produce cheap rice-origin ethanol brew with the help of local farmers who will donate farm waste to help in production.
Yasuo Igarashi, a professor of applied microbiology at the University of Tokyo, leads the three year project. If it catches on it could pave the way for other projects across Japan. "We want to present the next generation a preferable blue print -- a self-sustainable use of local fuels," he said.
Japan, the world's second largest gasoline consumer after the United States, is entirely dependent on crude oil imports. They have been hit hard by the sky-rocketing oil prices.
Japan is turning to biofuels to meet carbon emission reduction targets. Yet motorists in Japan are still far behind drivers in Europe and the United States in their use of green fuels.
Some analysts say Japan is at a major disadvantage as high prices for produce mean locally-made green fuels are very expensive.
There is also a lack of support from oil companies as well as failure on the government's part in implementing mandatory usage of green fuels.
Igarashi hopes to show that biofuels are feasible by developing a low-cost fuel and encouraging a local community of about 10,000 people to help produce the fuel.
Family farming is dominant in Japan, with a majority of farmers working regular jobs and growing rice, the staple food, on their weekends.
Igarashi believes that there is plenty of potential to develop biofuels from agriculture waste and abandoned farmland, make production cheap.
Production has just begun at the facility at a former high school field in Shinanomachi
The project will test its biofuel on a "flex-fuel vehicle", which can run on any mixture of gasoline and green fuels. These type of vehicles are gaining popularity in fighting the war against global warming.
But Japan has no flex-fuel vehicles so Igarashi had to import a red Ford Focus from Britain for the project.
With one 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice needed to produce 0.5 litre of ethanol, the main challenge will be creating a low cost biofuel that can compete with ordinary gasoline, which is now sold at around 135 yen ($1.13) a litre.