MATSURI Coalition Pursuing the Big Picture

While most MATSURI projects are focused on food and cosmetic ingredients, the big prize is to find a cost-effective way to make auto and jet fuel. Illustration ©MATSURI-Chitose

MATSURI (Microalgae Towards Sustainable & Resilient Industry) envisions an “advanced society based on algae.” This cross-industry coalition of 35 East Asian corporate giants — including such industry dominant names as Fuji, Honda and Mitsubishi — has come together to share knowledge in developing a mutual goal. The goal: being leaders in what the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions predicts will be a $320 billion annual market in 2030 for algae products in the combined food, feed, fuel and chemical sectors. MATSURI members have agreed to pursue their roles as “global pioneers in the actualization of the algae industry.”

MATSURI is led by Chitose Group, a family of bio-venture companies operating mainly in Southeast Asia and Japan whose mission is to contribute towards a prosperous world that will be sustainable for a thousand years. In particular, Chitose develops businesses that utilize the capabilities of small living organisms (mainly microorganisms, algae, and animal cells).

The responsibilities of the Chitose Group within MATSURI include algae cultivation, building the industry’s infrastructure, being the local coordinator on the various development sites, directing the R&D efforts and representing an international algae voice. Chitose also will disseminate information to help people understand that MATSURI, which means “festival” in Japanese, is proposing a new industry to the world.

According to Bloomberg News, in addition to discussions on the design of the future algae industry, MATSURI will also develop algae-derived products on a commercial scale. The group is hoping to create enough demand for phytoplankton to make a large-scale algae farm viable in Malaysia.

The growing facility would be built by Singapore-headquartered Chitose Bio Evolution, which is constructing a 12-acre trial farm on the Malaysian part of Borneo Island, with financial support from Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

Chitose is negotiating with the local Sarawak state government to secure land to expand its facility to 2000 hectares by around 2027 and is looking to raise $200 billion yen (US$2.45 billion) for the project. The farm initially would use carbon dioxide from a local thermal power plant to feed the algae and produce 140,000 tons of microalgae a year.

After the planned expansion, it would be one of the world’s largest purpose-built algae farms, according to Rebecca White, executive director of the US-based Algae Biomass Organization. At full capacity, the company expects $100 billion yen in annual sales from algae.

The site in the Malaysian state of Sarawak was chosen because of its intense tropical sunshine, low risk of natural disasters, and easy access to markets in Asia, said Tomohiro Fujita, chief executive officer of Chitose. “Creating a business is within the realm of imagination,” said Dr. Fujita, “but we are creating an industry, which is something extraordinary.”

From food to bio-jet fuel

While most MATSURI projects are focused on food and cosmetic ingredients, the big target is to find a cost-effective way to make auto and jet fuel. Eneos, which has been working on bio-jet fuel for more than 15 years, intends to begin commercial production of algae-based biofuel once Chitose starts operation in 2025.

Honda said it is still at the research stage for possible uses for algae and is also conducting its own investigation into cultivation. “We are mainly expecting to use algae as a fuel for aviation as well as resin autoparts,” the company said in an email.

The Matsuri consortium also includes half a dozen chemical companies, including Mitsui Chemicals, which is considering using algae as an alternative to naphtha, a feedstock used to make fuels, solvents and plastics. Other group members are investigating using the algae in applications as varied as printing, food, cosmetics, and medical industries.

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