IE ISLAND, Japan (Reuters) – It is three meters tall and productive even in poor soil, it holds up in droughts and typhoons, and it yields twice as many stems as most sugarcane. No wonder they call it "Monster Cane."
This new variety of sugarcane, named for its size as much as its vigor, is grown on a test field on the tiny island of Ie in Japan's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.
When a powerful typhoon swept through the region last month, knocking down trees and houses, the cane was unharmed.
Researchers at major Japanese beer maker Asahi Breweries Ltd. are hoping that someday farmers across Okinawa will be growing Monster Cane not only for sugar but also to fuel cars, raise cattle and fertilize farmland.
Formally known as "high-biomass sugarcane," Monster Cane is Japan's first variety designed to produce ethanol without sacrificing sugar output. It was jointly developed by Asahi and the National Agricultural Research Center for Kyushu Okinawa Region, an administrative agency.
In a few months, the cane grown on Ie will be harvested to feed a pilot plant run by Asahi Breweries, which aims to test its technology for producing ethanol from cane at a cost of just 30 yen (25 cents) per liter, making it competitive with gasoline.
Asahi aims to put its technology into practical application after completing tests at the pilot plant in 2010.
Researchers also hope the new variety will breathe life into Japanese farming of sugarcane, an important part in crop rotation in Okinawa, by adding value to sugar production.
"We believe biomass energy will be widely used in Japan in the future, and as a maker of alcohol, we want to contribute to society using our technology," said Satoshi Ohara, researcher at Asahi's Engineering & Technology Development Laboratory.
There is no word on when the movie is due out.
Jokes aside, this sounds like a good thing. One worry about increasing use of ethanol fuel is that it will cut the available supply of food for the world. With this cane, it would appear more sugar and alcohol can be produced in the same amount of acreage. That is a net positive. (We still see major motion picture possibilities as well, but tht's another discussion).