Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

Recycled udon — a viable energy alternative or a sign of extreme extravagance?

Monday, August 12th, 2013

udon

Sanuki udon

Chiyoda Seisakusho in Kagawa Prefecture is exhibiting some of Japan’s waste-not spirit (mottainai!) by using leftover udon scraps to make electricity. Noodle power! But is this technique really as eco-friendly as it sounds?

Chiyoda was already making bio-ethanol out of scrapped udon, but there are dregs left over. The power plant project began from trying to think of a way to put those dregs to use. By fermenting them, plus uneaten udon collected from restaurants (1.5 tons, 1 ton respectively per day), methane gas is created, which can rotate a turbine. Chiyoda estimates it’ll be able to produce enough kilowatts to power 50 households in a year and that it’ll start selling power to Shikoku Electric Power Company as early as September. Additionally, since it got a waste disposal license, it can make extra money just by collecting the udon shop garbage.

All told, Chiyoda expects to make ¥12 million (about $124,572) per year. This, from an initial investment (at least, for the plant) of ¥80 million (about $830,480). If others are keen on replicating this feat, the company is also planning on taking orders for plants themselves beginning sometime this year.

While it may be possible to apply this idea to other starchy food items, such as potatoes or rice, udon is supposedly especially efficient.

Awesome, so villages in the future will live and run on udon! Not so fast. Critically thinking onlookers bring up some good points, the most obvious of which is:

“At first glance this seems eco-friendly, but aren’t we just making too much udon?”

This sentiment from a 2ch message board user also came up in the Aug. 8 episode of “Sukkiri!” a Japanese talk/variety show featuring commentator Terry Ito.

Kagawa Prefecture, famous for Sanuki Udon, makes 47,080 tons of udon a year (which is almost double the second highest, Saitama). It also scraps 6,000 tons a year. “The fact that 6,000 tons get scrapped is shocking. Makes you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to reduce that amount,” Ito said.

A reporter for the TV show investigated one reason for the massive waste. In a noodle shop in Takamatsu he was served bukkake udon in 14.7 seconds. That speed means cooks are boiling noodles ahead of the moment an order comes in — a practice certainly not limited to Kagawa Prefecture, by the way — but if they are boiled for over 20 minutes they lose the consistency that customers expect and are tossed. Tossed!

“I know I’m harping on this, but couldn’t we control ourselves and get 6,000 down to 3,000? I really don’t like the idea that throwing it away becomes justifiable,” Ito said.

The bottom line seems to be that as long as we don’t use udon power plants as an excuse to waste udon, then everything is fine. Stretch your mottainai mindset a little further and instead of thinking of creative ways to re-purpose garbage, reduce the amount of garbage in the first place. That’s a technique we can all stand to emulate.

Power saving puts Christmas illuminations in a new light

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The Winter Sakura lights along Meguro River are powered by used cooking oil

As is the tradition, Christmas lights are twinkling all over Tokyo. When it comes to Christmas decorations the Japanese, who tend to go wild for the glitziest, brightest possible displays, aren’t exactly famed for their self-restraint, so this year poses the problem of how to accomplish the desired amount of dazzle without being seen as an energy hog.

The most obvious answer, and the most popular one, is to swap out normal bulbs for energy-efficient LED lights. Due to LED bulbs’ power-saving qualities, ad agency Dentsu has rated them as the second most popular product in Japan for 2011.

According to Sankei News, Keikyu Railways and the New Otani Hotel have both switched to LED lights. But Ebisu Garden Palace has not only switched over the bulbs of its gigantic Baccarat Crystal chandelier, it’s also reduced the number of bulbs from 60,000 to 40,000. On top of that a solar power panel has been installed to supplement the power supply. The Grand Prince Hotel Takanawa’s, however, have outstripped this effort by installing an entirely solar-powered display of LED lights in its Japanese garden.

Though the hotel’s garden sounds attractive, our favorite eco-friendly display in Tokyo is the “Winter Sakura” illuminations along the Meguro River. Pink LED bulbs are strung on the branches of trees along the river so that it appears as if the cherry blossom trees are blooming out of season. Better yet, the lights are powered from bio diesel made from used cooking oil collected from homes and restaurants in the area.

Some businesses have decided that the best way to do their bit, however, is to dodge the whole issue by not putting up any decorations. SG Holdings, for instance, who run Sagawa Express Ltd. announced that in light of power-saving measures, they decided to cancel any plans for illuminations that might have been put up at their head office or branch offices. This seems a pity especially seeing as Nikken Release Kyogo Ltd has begun renting out eco-friendly LED Christmas trees to meet the demand for a setsuden (power saving) Christmas.

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