By Jeff St. John
What do oil, beer and cars have in common?
Cellulosic ethanol, according to a research consortium of Japanese companies including Toyota (NYSE:TM), Nippon Oil Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (OTCPK:MHVYF) and Sapporo Breweries (OTC:SOOBF). The group plans to team up to make low-cost fuel from non-food feedstocks, according to Reuters.
They’ve set a goal of producing 1.6 million barrels of ethanol by 2014, and selling it for about $70 a barrel — or $1.67 a gallon — by 2015. That’s a higher price than many U.S.-based developers of cellulosic ethanol are promising, but then, none have hit full-scale commercial production yet (see Verenium Plans Cellulosic Ethanol Plant in Florida).
As it does with oil, Japan imports almost all of its ethanol, four-fifths of it from Brazil, which has a thriving sugarcane-to-ethanol industry. Japan’s government wants to replace 0.6 percent of the crude oil it uses for gasoline with biofuels by 2010.
As for cellulosic ethanol, Bioethanol Japan started up a plant in 2007 that makes the fuel from wood construction waste, Green Car Congress reported. (Sapporo Breweries was a partner on that project too.)
Three plants aimed at making ethanol from “non-food rice” are also underway, with the first expected to start production of about 220,000 gallons a year by next month, Reuters reports.