Japan is often thought of as an exporting juggernaut, thanks in no small part to the country’s high profile automobile and consumer electronics companies. However, the nation has to turn to importing for much of its energy needs, particularly as it increasingly looks for ways to reduce its reliance on domestically produced nuclear power following the events at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011.
However, one scientist claims Japan could eliminate its need to import energy entirely by turning algae into fuel.
As energy prices continue to rise around the world, biofuels have been getting more and more attention as a low-cost alternative to oil. Biofuels are not without their own drawbacks, however.
Corn and other grains are often used as the raw materials in producing biofuel. But while they do fit the criteria of being renewable energy sources, they obviously require farmland to grow. For Japan, a country that doesn’t have a lot of arable land to begin with, this is a serious sticking point.
▼ Japan! Beautiful? Unquestionably. Good place to grow lots and lots of corn? Not so much.
There’s also the concern about how biofuel production can contribute to higher food costs as the overall economic demand for grain grows.
▼ Sorry car, but I need some fuel too.
The obvious solution is to make our biofuel out of something that isn’t so mouth-wateringly delicious. Unfortunately, modern science hasn’t yet been able to pull reusable energy from Brussels sprouts. There may be a way to do so, however, with the next least appetizing thing for the human palate: algae.
▼ Green gold!
Shin Watanabe, a professor of life and environmental science at Tsukuba University, asserts that the varieties of algae known as botryococcus and aurantiochytrium possess untapped potential for producing biofuel. Neither is consumed by humans, thus eliminating any influence on food prices. Moreover, Watanabe says that compared to corn, the two strains of algae, on a per-unit basis, can produce several times the amount of fuel.
▼ Professor Watanabe, seen here in a meeting with his little green research partners
Watanabe goes on to explain that energy can be drawn from algae less than a millimeter thick, and that by utilizing a mere five percent of Japan’s currently fallow farmland to cultivate the microorganisms, the country could produce enough energy to halt its energy imports entirely. Not too shabby!
But there’s no such thing as a free lunch, right? Algae are living things, so in order to raise them, farmers would have to provide them with some sort of nourishment. Is costly, specialized algae food going to ruin the financial feasibility of Watanabe’s plan?
Not at all, says the professor. The nutrients necessary can be found in “wastewater produced by humans.” In other words, sewage.
So remember, everybody. If you’re committed to a future of clean, renewable energy, eat plenty of fiber, and don’t hold back on the greasy fast food, either.
▼ It’s for the good of the planet.