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Mitsui Studies Biomass Powerplants for Disposal of Disaster and Construction Debris

By Nicholas Zeman

This article first appeared in Engineering News-Record.

January 18, 2012

Mitsui Inc., one of Japan’s largest construction firms and also one of its major nuclear fuel traders, is investigating the feasibility of building biomass power generators to help dispose of debris from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami as well as help recycle waste from the reconstruction effort.

Biomass—wood, municipal solid waste and other organic material—is considered to be safer and cleaner than fossil and nuclear fuels. In addition to the need for technologies that can help dispose of 25 million tons of wood wreckage left by the disaster, the Japanese public has demanded the government expand its use of renewable energy.

Photo courtesy of Nippon Paper
Nippon Paper Group already is incinerating wood rubble from the great eastern Japan earthquake to generate power at its Ishinomaki mill, Ishinomaki City, in Miyagi Prefecture.
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The Japanese Forestry Agency’s request for parliamentary funding to build five biomass power plants in Tohoku is currently under review. Mitsui owns and operates a biomass powerplant in Ichihara and has the technology and experience to support this project, the company said.

“After the quake, we recognized more deeply the importance of renewables, including biomass power,” said Mikako Sachigai, communications director for Mitsui. “We are extending our knowledge through the experience of Ichihara and are interested in the opportunities to participate in other biomass projects in Japan, including in the Tohoku area.”

Starting in July 2012, a new federal mandate will require power companies to purchase electricity generated by renewable energies, such as solar power, wind power and biomass, through long-term contracts at fixed prices. ENR sources say this “feed-in tariff” poses a significant threat to the "nuclear village" companies—including Mitsui, Hitachi Ltd. and Itochu Corp., which are desperate to protect assets in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

“Unfortunately, in Japan it is true that [renewables] growth is very slow. It is said that it depends on mainly the political weakness for promotion or lack of [a] concrete plan or scenario,” a Hitachi employee told ENR. “One of the reasons might be supposed that a lot of funding drops into the nuclear industry instead of other clean-energy technologies.”


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