The Minami-Gamo Purification Center, in Sendai, Japan

The Minami-Gamo Purification Center, in Sendai, Japan

The Japan News reports that in Miyagino Ward, Sendai, a project has started at a sewage treatment facility to extract a biofuel ingredient from wastewater using algae. This first of its kind project in Japan is part of reconstruction efforts jointly promoted by Tohoku University, the University of Tsukuba, and the municipal government of Sendai, which was hit hard by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Scientists started the experimental research April 24 at the Minami-Gamo Purification Center, with the aim of putting the technology into practical use within 10 years. For the project, the University of Tsukuba is in charge of algae cultivation, while Tohoku University will attempt to develop the technology to extract fuel components for hydrocarbon from sewage processed with algae.

The project was accepted in July under the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry’s five-year renewable energy research and development promotion initiative for Tohoku recovery. It has a total budget of 900 million yen ($9,087,300 US).

Algae biomass has been gaining attention recently in Japan as an alternative energy resource. According to team member Prof. Makoto Watanabe of the University of Tsukuba, one type of algae conducive to producing a biofuel component being used in the trials to produce the hydrocarbon is Aurantiochytrium, which the researchers have high expectations for because of its production efficiency and rapid growth.

The project aims to establish a practical production technology by analyzing data from the experimental research. The main challenge the researchers face is cost. Prof. Hiroshi Inomata of Tohoku University said that producing algae oil using current technology costs about 1,500 yen to 1,600 yen per liter ($15.15 – $16.16 US), about 10 times higher than gasoline currently in Japan.