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Honda Solves Food vs Fuel Debate

March 4th, 2009
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Honda Motor Co., Ltd. has signed an agreement to establish R&D facilities in Japan to develop practical solutions using bio-ethanol production technology from the non-edible parts of plants, such as the stems and leaves.

The new facility of Honda R&D Co., Ltd. will be built in Kisarazu, Chiba. Construction is scheduled to begin in April 2009, with the goal to commence operations in November 2009.

Honda is continuing its collaborative research on bio-ethanol production technology with RITE (Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth) which began in 2006 and has been conducting research on the bio-ethanol conversion process at a facility within Honda R&D Co., Ltd. To move toward practical applications of this technology, Honda is building this new facility to conduct research on a large scale to achieve more accurate evaluations.

Ethanol fuel, derived from plants, is one of the most commonly used renewable fuels. Rapid growth in ethanol production has sparked global controversy and prompted Honda to develop this technological breakthrough.

The ‘food Vs fuel’ debate centres on the competing needs for vegetable matter to feed the world’s population and produce fuel. Some argue that the demand for both food and fuel will intensify competition, lead to shortages and drive up the price of corn.

In response to this challenge, Honda revealed it had developed cutting edge technology that extracts ethanol from the inedible stalks and leaves of plants, leaving the edible parts for human consumption. Essentially, one crop now provides two solutions – food and fuel.

Honda set up an experimental production facility at its R&D campus at Wako in Japan to further study the market potential of this technology. Honda joined with the Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth (RITE) and established the basic technology to produce ethanol fuel from cellulose and hemicellulose, both found in soft biomass such as vegetable waste which includes inedible leaves and stalks of plants such as rice straw.

Until now, converting soft biomass to ethanol represented a technical challenge as the current technology delivered an extremely low ethanol yield. The RITE-Honda process succeeds through application of revolutionary engineering technology and represents an important step forward for practical application of soft biomass as a fuel source.

The RITE-Honda process holds enormous potential as a major step towards the realisation of an energy sustainability society. It reinforces Honda’s industry-leading efforts to address the environmental challenges of global climate change, emissions reduction and energy sustainability through alternative fuels.

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