Japan: from cow dung to the conquest of space – Le Journal de Montréal

Japan may have opened a new chapter in its space history on Thursday with the successful test of a rocket engine powered entirely by locally produced energy: cow dung.

In that test, an engine shot a blue and orange flame horizontally for a few seconds about 10 meters through the open door of a hangar in the city of Taiki on the northern island of Hokkaido.

The liquid biomethane required for the experiment was produced from “contributions” from cattle from two local milk producers, explains Takahiro Inagawa, head of the Japanese company Interstellar Technologies.

“We are doing this not only because it is good for the environment, but also because it can be produced locally, is very cost-effective and is a high-performance, high-purity fuel,” Mr Inagawa told AFP.

“We are the first private company to do this,” he adds. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to assume that this will be repeated around the world.”

Interstellar hopes to use the fuel to send satellites into space and has partnered with industrial gas producer Air Water, which is working with local farmers who have equipment to convert cow manure into biogas.

“Resource-poor Japan must now secure a carbon-neutral energy source on its territory,” said Tomohiro Nishikawa, an engineer at Japanese industrial gas group Air Water.

“The raw material from cows in this region has enormous potential. In his opinion, if the international situation develops further, it will be important for Japan to have such an energy source.

Air Water’s biomethane is already being used by a local dairy and other factories to heat homes and, in pilot programs, to power trucks and ships.

900 cattle in use

Japan’s space agency Jaxa successfully launched its Moon Sniper lunar mission in September, but Japan’s aerospace sector has been plagued by numerous problems in recent years, including two failed missions.

Japan has also suffered setbacks with its launch vehicles, with the launch of the new generation H3 rocket and the small Epsilon 6 rocket from Jaxa failing.

Biogas made from cow dung is already being used as a fuel worldwide in place of more polluting conventional sources, including for bus operations in the Indian city of Indore.

It helps reduce the huge environmental footprint of agriculture, which Greenpeace estimates is responsible for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

If greenhouse gases are released when burning biogas, this is also the case during the natural degradation process, with wastewater from animal husbandry also polluting soil and water.

58-year-old Eiji Mizushita’s 900 cattle alone produce more than 40 tons of manure daily, and this project participant has set up a system that automatically collects, ferments and converts his animals’ production into biogas, fertilizer and even bedding for his animals.

“I’m happy that our animals’ waste is being used to make a rocket fly,” says Mr. Mizushita.

“We have to get rid of crap by using it properly. I also think that the government and society in general should look differently at the importance of renewable energy and encourage its production,” he continues.


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