Initiative in Japan Aims to Turn Wood into SAF

Three companies in Japan are collaborating to produce wood-based cellulosic bioethanol for sustainable aviation fuel.

A group of Japanese companies plan to make SAF from wood-based biofuel. [Credit: Shutterstock]

Nippon Paper Industries Co. Ltd., Sumitomo Corp. and Green Earth Institute Co. Ltd. agreed to look into the production of wood-based cellulosic bioethanol in Japan and its development into products including sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, Nippon Paper said in a statement.

Under the agreement the companies will study the possibility of producing “several tens of thousands of kiloliters per year of bioethanol” derived from domestic timber at Nippon Paper's mills in the fiscal year 2027. Nippon Paper said the bioethanol’s main use will be as a feedstock for SAF.

Earlier this year the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimated that total production of sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF, tripled in 2022, reaching at least 300 million liters, or about 79.3 million gallons compared with 100 million liters, or 26.4 million gallons, the previous year.

The organization said the SAF industry is “on the verge of an exponential capacity and production ramp-up,” but still required more support through government policy. Meanwhile airlines have increasingly used the fuels, engine manufacturers have tested it and companies have built transport and storage infrastructure to aid in its distribution. 

The new agreement calls for Nippon Paper “to accelerate its market entry into the biochemical field as a comprehensive biomass company shaping the future with trees,” the company said.

Sumitomo is working to develop businesses “that will serve as the foundation for a sustainable energy cycle in society, with the aim of making its business activities carbon-neutral by 2050.” 

Green Earth Institute is to develop a commercial production plant for bioethanol from non-edible biomass with a capacity of “several tens of thousands of kiloliters,” the companies said.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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