Japan’s aviation industry and the use of biofuels as a sustainable alternative (Vivian & Matin)

Link to article: https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Climate-Change/Japan-s-JGC-and-Cosmo-to-begin-jet-biofuel-production-in-2025 


This article overviews the current efforts by fuel companies in developing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using biofuel and how it will help the Japanese aviation industry achieve carbon neutrality by 2025. It outlines how Biofuel is a more sustainable fuel source for aircrafts as it is made from waste plastics or biomass. Compared to traditional jet fuel, the use of biofuels in jet engines can result in up to 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.


Japan, or rather the Japanese aviation industry, appears to be innovative in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It highlights how Japan seeks to employ new methods of tapping onto waste materials as a sustainable resource in creating a carbon neutral aviation industry, illustrating Japan’s intention in moving towards sustainable development. With the initiation of commercialising aviation biofuel, it could be a viable option in achieving carbon neutrality. This is because biofuels can help to mitigate the issues of resource depletion and carbon emissions from the excessive use of traditional fuels (Zhu et al. 2020, 381). This is especially so after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, which resulted in the diversification of energy sources in Japan (383). Conversely, with the implementation of measures to limit carbon emissions by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, together with the widespread use of biofuels by other countries, Japan could also appear as a nation feeling external pressure to increase its production and use of biofuels in the aviation sector.


The employment of biofuels in the Japanese aviation industry connects back to the nation’s interest in maximising waste management systems and underexploited resources (e.g. waste cooking oil) to generate new possibilities of energy production (Kirby 2011, 189-190). Additionally, this illustrates how the aims of the Biomass Nippon Integrated Strategy, which envisions the use of biomass in key stages of production, have begun to take shape in Japan’s economy (191). Thus, the employment of biofuels does not merely stem from Japan’s environmental consciousness, but illustrates how the interactions with nature can be manipulated into aligning with Japan’s aim of economic growth. 


The reverse is also true as we see how scarcity in light of “economic and development-focused orientation” can support environmental objectives in Japan (191), thereby advancing the research on environmentally-sustainable energy sources. This article is also exemplary of how Japan responds to gaiatsu. We observe how Japan’s aviation industry is willing to adopt the use of more environmentally sustainable fuel sources similar to other nations, which aligns with the goals of the nation and the industry itself. This therefore illustrates how this pursuit is not motivated by a sense of conformity to gaiatsu but rather one that is motivated by the nation’s domestic prerogatives (165). 


By seeking an alternative to traditional aviation fuel despite the considerable higher cost of production of biofuels, it is an example of “planting the seed” in sustainable development (Robbins 2007, 13). Yet, this could also be seen as something political due to external pressure that could possibly hinder airlines from landing in Japan in the future if biofuel supply were to be unavailable. The use of biofuels also illustrates how “resources are constructed rather than given” (8).  This shows how the Japanese aviation industry is adapting to meet the changing needs of society (9).


In conclusion, the Japanese aviation industry intends to reduce its carbon emissions in the future with the recent initiation of commercialising biofuels. While this can be seen as a move towards sustainable development, it could also be due to external political factors that could hinder Japan’s economic growth.


(597 words)




Kirby, Peter Wynn. 2011. “Constructing Sustainable Japan.” Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan, 160-192. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.


Nikkei staff writers. “Japan’s JGC and Cosmo to Begin Jet Biofuel Production in 2025.” Nikkei Asia, July 30, 2021. https://asia.nikkei.com/Spotlight/Environment/Climate-Change/Japan-s-JGC-and-Cosmo-to-begin-jet-biofuel-production-in-2025. 


Robbins, Paul. 2007. “The Hatchet and the Seed.” Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction, 1-16. London: Blackwell Publishing.


Zhu, Danmei, Seyed M. Mortazavi, Akbar Maleki, Alireza Aslani, Hossein Yousefi. 2020.” Analysis of the robustness of energy supply in Japan: Role of renewable energy.” Energy Reports 6 (November): 378-391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egyr.2020.01.011.

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