Thursday, October 22, 2015

okinawan snake oil, or, the real soylent green?


japantimes |  The future of Japan’s biofuel industry may be pond scum. Or more specifically, green algae that’s swirling around in tanks on a tropical Okinawan island.

That’s what Mitsuru Izumo and his company Euglena Co. are counting on anyway. After 10 years developing the algae as a nutritional supplement that feeds the company’s ¥4.6 billion in annual revenue, Euglena has been teaming up with corporate giants including All Nippon Airways and a unit of Chevron Corp. for its next phase.

Excited investors have driven up the shares more than 2,400 percent since its 2012 initial public offering, the best performance of any IPO that year or since.

“I’m very confident we’ll commercialize bio-jet fuel by 2020,” said Izumo, 35, in an interview at his Tokyo office, while sporting one of his four luminous-green ties meant to evoke the color of the aquatic microorganisms. “We expect the biofuel business to overtake health food, but we don’t know yet if this will be in 2025 or 2030. We’re still in the R&D stage.”

At the Euglena factory on the island of Ishigaki, one of the southernmost in the Okinawan chain, the bright sunshine bathing the half dozen freshwater tanks is creating photosynthesis. It’s the energy that provides euglena’s nutrition as well as its oil that may someday propel jets.

Seiya Takeda, a researcher there, checks the tanks daily, making sure that moving metal arms constantly churn through the water. That keeps air flowing to the organisms, speeding growth.