In Focus

Minister of the Environment Wakabayashi's Visit to Miyakojima - Accelerating the Use of Bioethanol and Stepping Up Global Warming Measures

March 19, 2007

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Minister of the Environment Wakabayashi fuels bioethanol-mixed gasoline in Miyakojima

Minister of the Environment Wakabayashi visited Miyakojima in Okinawa Prefecture on March 3rd and 4th of this year. The objective of his visit was to inspect the bioethanol pilot project and the coral reef restoration project undertaken by the Ministry of the Environment.

Minister Wakabayashi, once having served as the first Chief of the Okinawa Restoration Headquarters under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, was involved in the restoration of Okinawa Prefecture before its return to Japan. The underground dam at Miyakojima, which is unique in the world, is the result of long years of planning since that time. Minister Wakabayashi was deeply impressed by the tremendous growth the dam has brought to the agriculture of Miyakojima.

From this visit, Minister Wakabayashi reaffirmed his belief that efficient use of biomass through local production for local consumption that does not conflict with the food supply holds great promise as a means to arrest global warming. He also recognized the essential role played by coral reefs - the forests of the sea - and the importance of their conservation as a global warming measure.

The bioethanol pilot project in Miyakojima is sponsored by the Ministry of the Environment as a project to develop global warming mitigation technology. It is being carried out by a local petroleum company. The project was first conceived because molasses left over from sugar production, which is the key industry in Miyakojima, was not being used efficiently. The project is an attempt to produce ethanol using molasses as a raw material and to mix ethanol with gasoline to fuel vehicles as a means to arrest global warming.

Thanks to the development of this technology, Miyakojima is able to continue its sugar production as well as launch the new production of value-added ethanol fuel. Local consumption of this ethanol fuel puts into practice a material cycle-based global warming measure that offers both environmental and economic benefits.

This project caught the attention of Mr. Koizumi, former Prime Minister of Japan, who then instructed the government to give this project its full support. The concerned ministries and agencies have launched various programs in FY 2007 to help popularize the use of ethanol-mixed gasoline in Miyakojima, in order to make it a bioethanol island.

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Meanwhile, a private company in Osaka's Sakai City financed by major general contractors built a plant to produce bioethanol using waste wood as a raw material. The plant, which was opened in January, is the first commercial production facility in the world that uses hard cellulose to make bioethanol.

The Ministry of the Environment lends its support to the facility as it presents a new business model for mitigating global warming. Minister Wakabayashi attended the opening ceremony of the facility as one of its guests.

The Ministry of the Environment launched a large-scale experimental project in FY 2007, utilizing the ethanol that has been produced so far to supply E3 gasoline to big city areas. This gives added momentum to a full-fledged effort to popularize the use of bioethanol.

The transport sector emits approximately 20% of Japan's greenhouse gases. The use of bioethanol as a fuel is an important measure that offers great possibilities for the sector. The government's Kyoto Protocol Target Achievement Plan set the target of using 500,000 kl of biomass fuel for transportation in FY 2010. However, this only represents 0.6% of the overall fuel consumption for transportation in Japan. It is necessary to expand the use of bioethanol further in the mid-to-long term.

To this end, the Ministry of the Environment formulated the "Strategy for Accelerating the Introduction of Biomass Energy" as a priority measure for FY 2007. It calls for cooperation from concerned ministries and agencies to step up overall measures, including the undertakings in Miyakojima and Osaka.

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With regard to coral-reef restoration, Dr. Okamoto, Assistant Professor at the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, gave an explanation of his experiment.

Coral reefs support the entire ecological system. (They are called the "tropical forests of the sea.") They are not only important to the conservation of biodiversity but also play an essential role in local economy through tourism and fisheries. However, global warming has caused the bleaching of many coral reefs and little progress has been seen in their restoration.

Ministry of the Environment has implemented measures to protect Japan's coral reefs, one such example being the nature restoration project at the Sekisei Lagoon of Yaeyama Archipelago, using the method developed by Dr. Okamoto.

As the host country for the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), which is an international framework for the protection of coral reefs, Japan is co-hosting a meeting in Tokyo in April this year. ICRI has designated 2008 as the "International Year of the Reef" and will focus attention on protection of the world's coral reefs and outreach activities to raise awareness for coral reef conservation. Also in Japan, government agencies, business sectors, and NGOs have started discussions to pave the way for the "International Year of the Reef."

Including preparation for the "International Year of the Reef," the Ministry of the Environment intends to strengthen cooperation with relevant countries to promote activities to protect coral reefs.

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