Press Information

MHI to Start Operation of Demonstration Plant
For Cellulosic Bioethanol Production
-- Efficient Biofuel Production from Cellulosic Resources Realized --


Tokyo, November 30, 2009 - A cellulosic bioethanol demonstration plant constructed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI), Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Co., Ltd. and Kansai Chemical Engineering Co., Ltd. is about to launch continuous operation. The new facility, located at the Futami Plant of MHI's Kobe Shipyard & Machinery Works in Hyogo Prefecture, will produce ethanol for automobile fuel from soft cellulose vegetating in Hyogo: for example, rice straw and wheat straw. It will be Japan's first biofuel production facility capable of continuous preprocessing.

In celebration of the plant's inauguration, a ceremony attended by the various parties affiliated with the project, including officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the Hyogo Prefectural Government, took place today at the site.

Construction of the demonstration plant began in April this year as part of an MAFF project. Each of the three participating companies leveraged its specific areas of expertise and took charge of different processes at the plant: MHI overseeing the entire plant including development of preprocessing and saccharification, Hakutsuru Sake Brewing handling fermentation, and Kansai Chemical Engineering in charge of distillation and purification.

For preprocessing and saccharification, MHI adopted a method combining hydrothermal treatment and enzymatic saccharification – technologies the company developed jointly with the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO). The new method enables input of several kinds of feedstock – soft cellulose – into a moderate temperature and pressure reactor; and reactor output is separated into two parts – carbon 5 and 6 sugar portions – on a continuous basis. The separated carbon 5 and 6 portions are saccharified by different enzymes. As only hot water is added during preprocessing, influence of the fermentation inhibitor is minimal and waste utilization is possible, as preliminary verification has already executed. Employing this method will result in significant cost reduction and enhanced operational safety due to reduced use of water and heat in the preprocessing reactor.

In the fermentation process handled by Hakutsuru Sake Brewing, nongenetic recombinant yeast – the same kind of yeast used for Japanese "sake" liquor production – is employed. This permits safe and effective recycling of secondary products from the distillation and purification processes in the form of fertilizer for agricultural lands, providing an alternative to rice straw.

In the distillation and purification processes overseen by Kansai Chemical Engineering, a new type of distillation column is used which enables adjustment of the open area ratio of the internal tray. The new column has solved the problem of plugging that conventional distillation columns have faced and enables long-term continuous operation.

In addition to the various ethanol production technologies described above, a group centering on the Hyogo Environmental Advancement Association, an organization auxiliary to the Hyogo Prefectural Government, is concurrently studying how to achieve more efficient collection and transportation of feedstocks such as rice straw. As a whole, this MAFF project targets capability to produce ethanol at less than 90 yen per liter by the end of 2010. In the short term, each participating party is aiming to establish core technology on commercial scale that will be cost-competitive.

Demand for cellulosic biofuels, which reduce carbon dioxide emissions dramatically and are easy on the environment, has been increasing as an alternative or supplement to oil and other fuels. This project thus also aims at paving the way for "local production and local consumption" type soft cellulose utilization by incorporating environmentally compatible methods that use neither chemical products such as acid and alkali nor genetically recombinant yeast.

Going forward the three companies engaged in the project will conduct verification testing in cooperation with other companies and organizations concerned. They will also accelerate efforts to achieve and promote core technologies, toward early integration on commercial scale at biorefineries and plants that produce biofuel from cellulosic feedstock.