Over the past decade Japan has vigorously promoted biomass energy as a clean and renewable form of energy. But since the start of the war in Ukraine in February this goal has acquired added urgency due to the U.S.-led sanctions meant to punish Russia. Japan hopes it will be able to replace Russian crude oil imports, which pre-war met approximately 4% of the nation’s needs, with biomass energy.
Obstacles abound, however, and there’s reason to be uncertain that these goals can be met, unless Tokyo takes the necessary action to resolve labor shortages, and consistently generates large volumes of feedstock that are required to build a strong supply chain. The labor-intensive biomass sector requires a sizable workforce.
Also, there are a myriad of issues to tackle on the municipal level; from securing the necessary permits, to earning approval from cautious and reluctant local residents who are concerned about changes in their lifestyle. Ironically, the same local resistance that plagued Japan’s nuclear power industry for decades is now increasingly a problem for renewables operators, including biomass energy firms.
Take the case of Mihama in Aichi Prefecture, central Japan. At first, a decade ago, the town of 22,700 residents was eager to leverage its prospering agriculture sector in order to develop a biomass economy. Those efforts, however, eventually floundered as hopes turned into disappointments and enthusiasm in the local community withered. The result is a cautionary tale for innovative renewable energy companies.