Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Oil shock? Use rice as a gasoline!

In a period of energy restriction, food crisis and limitations of food self-sufficiency in many countries, I just went to Niigata city on the Japan Sea coast with the Foreign Press Center press tour as I heard about some high-tech development for wise consumption and for the energy and the automotive industry. What a surprise when I saw the great plains or Niigata producing the famous rice brand "Koshihikari", a best among the best Japanese rice! Beautiful taste!

Rice is Japan’s representative agricultural product and new initiatives have begun in Niigata as a core rice-growing region. New trends include the use of rice flour to make bread, noodles and cakes instead of imported wheat. Seeking to produce and consume energy locally, a demonstration rice-plant bio-ethanol project has also been launched using a high-yield strain and bio-ethanol production is due to begin at Niigata’s East Port at the end of this year. Visiting Niigata, where we can see the Koshihikari rice harvest at its peak, we will do a story on the rice, today and tomorrow.

But Niigata is not just about rice, Niigata city under the dynamic Mayor Shinoda Akira, an ex-journalist from Niigata Nippo shimbun, looks far away as far as energy and food are concerned. (These two sectors are harshly targeted in the financial crisis currently jolting our world)

Niigata is the only place in the world where I will be able to use rice to move my car! How ? Thanks to bio-ethanol! Niigata city experienced a reduction of her agricultural population and re-organization had to be set under cooperatives and individual initiatives. You know how Japanese society can move fast when it wants! Here bio-ethanol is not to be the tool to destroy fields of rice (in other countries it is palm trees or corn) Here it is wisely limited harvest to unexploited rice fields and transformed thanks to the efforts of the city and academics such as researcher Mochizuki san (he also is an ex journalist of Niigata Nippo!)

Bio-ethanol production is becoming popular here and there all over the world. It is developed using local agricultural products, for instance, maize in the United States and sugarcane in Brazil. In fact, it is becoming a controversial issue inviting various opinions and criticism.

In Niigata, they use rice, the main agricultural product, and have launched a demonstration project, in which they grow rice, produce ethanol from it, and sell the ethanol-compound gasoline. The project is led by JA Zen-Noh Niigata (Agricultural Cooperative Association) in an association of the regional council member organizations including Niigata City and Prefecture.

In the program for FY2008, the strain “Hokuriku 193”, a high yielding variety, is currently being grown in the rice paddies in the cooperation of local farmers. At the end of this year, an ethanol production plant will appear at the Niigata East Port and start its operation.

It is expected that the cultivation of the high yielding “Hokuriku 193” strain, will be 2250 tons, and bio-ethanol production 1,000kl. The project also aims to contribute to the rice production adjustment, as it uses fallow rice fields and rice that is not intended as a staple food.

Then the bio-ethanol produced will be mixed with gasoline at the Zen-Noh Niigata Petroleum Station in the Port. Finally, in March 2009, the end product will be supplied at the JA-SS gas stations in the region.

Well maybe you want to know the name of this new product... well I give you a secret: there is a contest opened for naming this new car fuel. Take your chance and contact the City of Niigata. I am quite sure the laureate will receive a great price to propose as City officials Yamaguchi and Enomoto san told me. Who knows? Maybe you could start gardening your own fied of dreams?

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