1st algae-based oil producing facility in Fukushima set up in devastated region

[Japan] An experimental facility to produce oil from algae was constructed on former farmland that was abandoned after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck the region.

“The new plant embodies local efforts toward a local energy production and consumption policy in areas hit by the tsunami,” Minami-Soma Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai said recently. “I expect operations at the facility will lead to more job opportunities in the region.”

The Algae Industry Incubation Consortium, operator of the large-size biomass plant, which is headed by Isao Inoue, a professor emeritus of the University of Tsukuba, will compile a commercialization plan for its algae-based technology by the end of the fiscal year.


The Minami-Soma city government bought abandoned fields in coastal areas, and provided the consortium with 1.2 hectares of land, where the joint firm constructed various facilities, such as pools to cultivate Scenedesmus and other native algae, using state subsidies.

The consortium plans to mass-produce algae there by adding nitrogen and phosphorus as nutrients, as well as carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, to the culture fluid, and then stirring it with paddle wheels.

The operator will study the profitability of the oil generating technology after conducting experiments to convert algae into crude oil through exposing the organisms to high temperatures and high pressure.

During the three-year period until the end of this fiscal year, it plans to spend a total of 1.1 billion yen (9.16 million) for the oil producing facility. The biomass plant is the first such facility in Fukushima Prefecture.

The production efficiency for algae-derived oil is higher than that for other biomass fuel. In addition, algae are typically not edible, so there is no risk that use of algae for generating oil will lead to food shortages, unlike corn.


Photo: Pools to mass-produce algae by stirring the culture fluid with paddle wheels are seen in Minami-Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, on Aug. 7. (Masakazu Honda)

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