J-STORIES - A Japanese company has provided a tonic to an Asian nation shackled by a problem plant by using it to produce power and a tasty tipple.
Gifu-based Sunwaspa has found a way to harness the properties of the water hyacinth, an invasive plant native to South America but naturalized throughout the world, to make ethanol for fuel and craft gin.
The water hyacinth can increase the area it covers millions of times a year, hindering fishing and water transportation systems, and causing secondary pollution due to its high capacity to absorb large quantities of heavy metals and other harmful substances.
One place in Asia that has been particularly affected is Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia, and paper and clothing recycling company Sunwaspa has been employing local residents there to gather the plant to use in the production of ethanol for biomass power generation. In cooperation with the Cambodian province of Kampong Chhnang, the company’s new mass production plant started operations this May.
Bioethanol produced at the plant is used as fuel for generators, an everyday appliance for people who live on the lake, and is also repurposed as disinfectant. The plant has a production capacity of 55 liters per day. In addition, methane gas is produced from the residue after ethanol production and is used as an energy source in the production facility's living quarters.
However, the company has found that bioethanol produced from water hyacinth isn’t sufficiently profitable when sold only as fuel, and it doesn’t expect the market to grow. So, to create a high value-added business, it has begun using the ethanol to also produce craft gin.
According to the company, the added value of ethanol when used in spirits is more than 100 times greater than when it is used as fuel. The company has already started selling Mawsim, a high-end craft gin made from sugarcane-derived bioethanol, and has been delivering it to Cambodian restaurants, bars and hotels since summer. It has also been available in Japan and other countries via the internet since September. The company plans to launch its craft gin made from the water hyacinth of Tonle Sap Lake during the current fiscal year.
Cambodia isn’t the only country in Asia battling with the invasive weed, according to Sunwaspa CEO Tomotada Hara, who took over the 53-year-old company in 2015 and decided to launch a new renewable resource-focused business overseas due to Japan's dwindling population. He hopes that one day the company can also use its renewable resource and biomass generation technology in other Asian nations such as Laos and Sri Lanka.
Translation by Tony McNicol
Top page photo by poetique_id/Envato
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