Diversifying Japan's Fuel Options
Executives in Japan are working on ways to allow vehicles to run on fuels other than traditional gasoline. They're expecting natural gas imports from the US to get cheaper with the construction of new plants for shale gas. And domestically, people are thinking more about producing their own gas.
This is a remodeled automobile. An auto parts company in Shizuoka-prefecture, central Japan, redesigned it as a bi-fuel vehicle.
The car can run on either gasoline or natural gas. This tank contains natural gas. It holds enough to keep the vehicle going for about 250 kilometers.
When the natural gas runs out, the bi-fuel system automatically switches to a backup gasoline supply.
The company reported 3.4 million dollars in sales of its re-modelling kit last year. One of the most appealing things about natural gas is that it's cheaper than gasoline.
A car can run two and a half kilometers further per dollar on natural gas than on gasoline.
The cost of remodeling starts from around 5 thousand dollars per vehicle. With national and local subsidies, the auto parts company estimates that if firms make the switch, they can recover the cost within a few years at most.
Natural gas emits less exhaust fumes than gasoline and this is also attractive for firms concerned with their corporate image.
"I knew shale gas would become a major industry ; that's why I started this business. When people see how easy these cars are to drive, we're definitely expecting them to become more popular."
Hiroyuki Hasegawa / President, HKS
In Kobe City, western Japan, there is also a movement to manufacture what's known as biogas.
This biogas plant is located next to the city's sewage-treatment plant.
Inside these tanks, sludge from the sewage-treatment plant is fermented to make biogas. It has almost the same composition as natural gas.
Japan can potentially make enough biogas per day to fuel about 20,000 passenger cars. And biogas can be considerably cheaper than regular natural gas.
"Bio-gas can help to prevent grobal warming and it's cheaper than regular natural gas."
The sewage plant is also starting to experiment with increasing biogas production by using waste from food processing plants and fermenting it along with the sludge.
"It would be good if the combined effect of our policy and low-cost shale gas made natural-gas vehicles popular around the country."
Keisuke Sakabe / Construction Bureau, Kobe City
Imported, low-cost natural gas and domestic biogas may play a bigger role in the energy market within a few years. So we could be seeing Japanese drivers filling up their vehicles with a more economical and environmentally-friendly fuel.