At the virtual Leaders’ Summit on Climate hosted by the United States in April, Japan declared its aim to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 46% in fiscal year 2030 from its fiscal year 2013 levels—an ambitious goal to achieve carbon neutrality by year 2050.
Meanwhile there is a small town in Japan that uses a unique method to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. The town is called Okoppe Town. It is a small town with population of 3,700, located along the coastline of the Sea of Okhotsk in Hokkaido, where their primary industry comes from dairy farming, forestry and fishing. This small town has surprised the world by reportedly being the world’s first to successfully produce methanol and formic acid from livestock manure biogas in February 2020.
As a matter of fact, Japan designated Okoppe Town as “City of Biomass Industry” in 2014. Afterwards, its municipality-managed Okoppe Hokkou Biogas Plant continued to research the most effective way to use biomass resources. The town also has two other privately-owned biogas plants in operation to process 20% of livestock manure to methane fermentation.
In Hokkaido there is a plan to establish a biogas plant. But as the operation policy uses Feed-in Tariff* model to sell electricity, they are urgently trying to find a solution to reconsider the operation policy to continue to make profit even after the end of the FIT period.
In order to convert the energy usage of biogas to other than electricity, the most efficient method is to convert methane gas to liquid to produce high density energy, making it possible to be stored or transported. But it has been regarded that the process to convert the principal component of biogas, methane gas, to liquid is a especially difficult task.
In 2018, an Osaka University research group discovered that illuminating ultraviolet rays onto a flask mixed with dissolved chlorine dioxide and biogas turns methane to methanol and formic acid under regular temperature and pressure conditions. In 2019, Osaka University and Okoppe Town signed a cooperative agreement to develop a method to formulate liquid fuel from biogas produced by livestock manure. And in a year of research and development, they were the world’s first to produce bio-based methanol and formic acid.
As of 2020, two private companies have joined the cooperative agreement, allowing to implement the use of liquid fuel in fiscal year 2030 or later. If this effort becomes successful, it would provide a plant to be self-sufficient, running off on methanol fuel and allow the biogas plant to not rely on the FIT to operate. Also, it would be possible for excess methanol to be sold outside of their usage. With this in mind, Okoppe Town is planning to supply the excess methanol to the town electric vehicle charging station and public fuel cell charging station, official vehicle, fuel delivery vehicle, fire extinguisher vehicle and dairy cow vehicle.
It is difficult to say that these technologies have been implemented or commercialized as it is still currently going through testing stage. But in the near future it is certain that these technologies will not only be implemented or commercialized in Hokkaido but throughout Japan. In the CNMI, specifically on Tinian, there are farms that produce cattle. I hope that one day, the CNMI would implement these technologies to minimize the emission of greenhouse gas to protect our nature.
*Feed-in Tariff, or FIT, is a policy where the government purchases solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and biomass energy at a fixed price for a given period.
Ono Kazuhiko is the Japanese consul and head of the Consular Office of Japan on Saipan.