In the future predicted by Back to The Future in 1985, garbage could be used to aliment the famous DeLorean. Today this utopic future is closer to reality than we could imagine: In Japan, there is a train that runs on leftover ramen broth.
The train in question is the Takachiho Amaterasu Railway, located in Miyazaki Prefecture. The train offers a 30-minute tour, crossing Takachiho Iron Bridge, the former highest railway bridge in Japan. Furthermore, the 105-meter-high bridge offers stunning views of the canyon, and local landmarks such as the Takachiho rice terraces, Amano Iwato Shrine, and Aratate Shrine. In addition, the passengers describe the rides as a unique experience, from the breathtaking view that can be admired to the light show that illuminates the tunnels, and the bubbles blown by the conductors during the trip.
On the other hand, another factor that makes Takachiho Amaterasu Railway so unique is the use of biofuel created from leftover tonkatsu ramen broth. When the train ran on diesel, passengers complained of black smoke and fumes they inhaled during the journey, as the train has an open top. Keeping passenger enjoyment in mind and wanting an eco-friendly alternative to diesel, the railway entered a collaboration with Nishida Logistics.
In 2007, Masumi Nishida, president of Nishida Logistics, began studying biodiesel. In 2013, Nishida turned to ramen broth, which was comical and expensive for local restaurants to dispose of. Subsequently, scientific studies investigated the suitability of the broth, and the president developed a process to recover the animal fat from the soup and mix it with spent tempura oil to produce biodiesel with a process called transesterification.
In addition, Chihiro Kongo, associate professor of machine engineering at Okayama University of Sciences, said the discovery was "epoch-making" and "a good opportunity to get people interested in the effective use of waste."
Returning to Nishida's professional work, he started a partnership with local restaurants, providing the right equipment and having it installed in their kitchens. Now, about half of the company's 170 trucks are powered by biodiesel obtained from exhausted tempura oil and leftover ramen broth, and now also Takachiho Amaterasu Railway.
But what is really the impact of biodiesel on the environment?
Biodiesel is a more sustainable and eco-friendly option than diesel. Some of its pros include being non-toxic and biodegradable. Also, as declared by Iowa Renewable Fuels Association among other organizations, biodiesel decreases greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86%, and hydrocarbon emissions by up to 67% it also reduces smog as well as it can be used in diesel engines with no need to modify them.
In fact, because it has a higher flash point than fossil diesel, biodiesel would also be safer in the unfortunate event of an accident. In addition to the fact that biodiesel contributes to waste management through the recycling of resources.
Finally, this story has a happy ending for the well-being of our planet and for the passengers of Takachiho Amaterasu Railway. It might not be a time-traveling DeLorean, but it now leaves behind it a non-toxic distinctive smell of fried rice.
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