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Bamboo burned as biomass fuel in southwestern Japan experiment

This image supplied by Bamboo Energy Co. shows the facility to test bamboo as a biomass fuel, in Nankan, Kumamoto Prefecture.

FUKUOKA -- An experiment using bamboo as biomass fuel has begun in the Kumamoto Prefecture town of Nankan, a major bamboo-producing area in southwestern Japan, to help stop the plant material going to waste.

The experiment was the result of a collaboration between the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) and local businesses hoping to utilize bamboo. It comes as the abandonment of bamboo groves due to falling demand for the material emerges as a problem across the country.

Kumamoto Prefecture is Japan's second-largest producer of bamboo after Kagoshima Prefecture. In 2015, three companies were set up in Nankan with funding from local firms in an attempt to create a business model under which bamboo could be utilized while revitalizing the economy. One of them handles the cutting of bamboo and the first stage of processing, while the other two process the bamboo into building material, and generate electricity and supply heat with the use of bamboo as biomass fuel.

Bamboo Energy Co., which handles the power generation side of the venture, began researching the use of bamboo as biomass fuel together with NEDO in 2015. They found that when bamboo ash melted and hardened, it would stick to the furnace and hinder combustion. However, when they mixed in cedar bark and other material, they were able to raise the temperature at which the combustion ash melted, and succeeded in lowering the temperature inside the furnace to prevent melting.

At a facility that was completed in August, bamboo was burned to heat and evaporate oil and turn turbines, and a maximum output of about 1,000 kilowatts was achieved. Besides electricity generation, heat is supplied, partly with hot water. Most of the power and heat is transferred to the factory of Bamboo Material, a company participating in the project which processes building materials, thereby reducing that company's costs.

The firms will test the most efficient way of operation over the next year and a half. By around 2023, they plan to have the plant operating for about 330 days a year, using up about 8,800 metric tons of bamboo, and have a yearly turnover of 300 million yen.

"To solve the local issue of abandonment of bamboo groves, we want to look for ways to make the most out of using bamboo as fuel for biomass power generation," a representative of Bamboo Energy Co. said.

(Japanese original by Yoshihiro Takahashi, Kyushu Business News Department)

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