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SENDAI (Kyodo) Scientists from Tohoku University and Tohoku Electric Power Co. have developed a technology to efficiently generate ethanol from seaweed such as sea tangle and sea grape, group members said Saturday.

The technology uses natural yeast discovered by the group as well as a new fermentation method, according to the group led by Minoru Sato, professor of marine biochemistry at Tohoku University.

Ethanol is a form of renewable energy obtained mainly through the sugar fermentation process but its production has been blamed for eating into supplies of food grains, including corn and sugar cane.

The new technology is expected to help address the global food problem in the future while contributing to environmental protection, the scientists said.

The technology will also help seaside power plants get rid of seaweed that is regarded as a nuisance, as it obstructs power generation operations by clogging intakes for power plant cooling water.

The scientists mixed finely cut seaweed with enzymes and blended the substance to melt into a pulp before adding the natural yeast to ferment it. In two weeks, they succeeded in generating 200 milliliters of ethanol from 1 kg of seaweed.

Japan has large reserves of sea tangle and sea grape in its surrounding seas, while Tohoku Electric Power’s thermal power plant in the town of Shichigahama, Miyagi Prefecture, annually sees 300 tons of seaweed flowing into its intake for cooling waters, the scientists said.

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