August 13, 2007 — TOKYO (Nikkei)–A Japanese government-affiliated research institute has developed technology for creating a diesel fuel from materials such as grass cuttings and wood chips, The Nikkei reported in its Tuesday morning edition.
Although similar technology exists for bioethanol fuel for gasoline cars, this is said to be a world first for diesel vehicles.
The Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth is aiming for commercial production in three years. RITE was established in 1990 by the government and leading Japanese firms in such industries as automobiles and power.
The biodiesel fuel in question uses a type of alcohol known as butanol made using genetically modified microorganisms. The biobutanol was created by cultivating a large number of these microbes in a vat and adding sugar produced by breaking down such plant fibers as grass and tree cuttings, wood and rice straw.
Light oil is generally used in diesel fuel. But in testing commissioned by RITE, Honda Motor Co. (7267.TO) subsidiary Honda R&D Co. confirmed negligible effects on vehicle performance when biobutanol was mixed with light oil.
RITE sees the biofuel as key to cutting greenhouse gases emitted from diesel vehicles. Once mass production begins, the fuel is seen costing almost the same to produce as bioethanol for gasoline-powered cars.
Demand for biofuels made from plants is expected to grow because they help curb carbon dioxide emissions. But to date, biodiesel fuels have been made from materials like coconut and tempura oils. There has thus been fierce competition among RITE, BP Plc (BP) of the U.K., DuPont Co. (DD) of the U.S., and others to create a biodiesel fuel from plants. RITE has already applied for an international patent on the technology.