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Honda finds way to make ethanol from inedible plants

Honda Motor Co., Japan's third-largest automaker, and a Japanese research group have developed technology to make ethanol from inedible plants instead of corn and sugarcane. The carmaker and Research Institute of Innovative Technology for the Earth have developed a way to make the fuel from leaves and stalks of plants, the company said in a statement today. Existing bio-ethanol production typically use food plants, Honda said. Honda, Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. are developing technologies for a range of alternative fuels, including ethanol, natural gas and hydrogen. Toyota, the largest seller of autos powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity, said in June it will introduce vehicles that run on ethanol in Brazil by 2007. „We plan to develop the technology for practical use over the next two to three years,” said Tomohiko Kawanabe, senior managing director at Honda R&D Co., the automaker's research unit. The ethanol produced from inedible plants will produce 70-90% less carbon dioxide than gasoline. Ethanol made from corn produces 20-40% less carbon dioxide than gasoline, said Hideaki Yukawa, chief researcher at the research group. Increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has been linked to global warming. Honda's shares rose 2.7% to 3,860 yen at the close of trading in Tokyo.

Honda, which is one of the first automakers to sell hybrid autos powered by a combination of gasoline and electricity, plans to introduce vehicles that run on ethanol in Brazil this year, followed by Toyota in 2007. Honda, based in Tokyo, has been selling motorcycles and vehicles in Brazil that run on 20-25% ethanol. Japanese automakers are set to accelerate their push into ethanol-powered vehicles as gasoline prices in the US have been hovering at about $3 a gallon, according to AAA, a US drivers' group. They are following General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. GM and Ford are also expanding the number of vehicles they sell in the US capable of running on E85, a fuel that's 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. GM estimates there are currently 4 million vehicles in the US that can run on the ethanol-based fuel. Ethanol can be made from corn and other crops. GM, Ford and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler plan to double production of vehicles that run on ethanol and other renewable fuels to at least 2 million annually by 2010. (Bloomberg)