In a sprawling greenhouse with shiny silver ducts running through, stacks of cardboard boxes feature prints of a flower alongside the distinctive red Toyota logo. In an experiment aimed at putting to use some of the carbon dioxide blamed for global warming, the auto group is using Asia's largest greenhouse for potted flowers, stretching across 20,000 square meters (five acres).
"Nowadays you automatically think of CO2 as a villain. But it's what plants need to grow," said Teruo Takatomi, president of unit Toyota Floritech Co. Ltd.
The system generates power by burning natural gas, with electricity used for lighting over plants, "waste" heat for warming water, and emitted carbon dioxide falling on plants to promote their photosynthesis."You have gas emissions when you generate electricity. After removing nitrogen oxide from the gas, C02 is returned here for plants to inhale," farm chief Takuya Sato said, pointing to the overhead ducts.
The new system introduced in March is expected to help the company slash CO2 emissions by a combined 460 tons a year, he said.
The farm is the first large commercial facility in Japan to introduce a form of "trigeneration" system -- production and use of three different resources from a single fuel, according to project partner Kansai Electric Power Co. The system comes along with a machine that provides high-oxygen water to help invigorate plant roots.
"The point of the system is -- let's generate power and use the byproduct too, leaving almost nothing wasted," said Hiroshi Teshima, an energy business official at Kansai Electric. "People who grow plants say that CO2 during winter is as effective as sunlight," he added.
Kansai Electric, Toyota Floritech and other firms spent 70 million yen (US$650,000) to install the system at the greenhouse on the northern tip of Japan's main island of Honshu, which is a few minutes drive from a major nuclear fuel plant. Another 120 million yen was spent to switch the energy source from heavy oil to natural gas by building a satellite tower to store liquefied natural gas.
"Agriculture of course absorbs CO2 thanks to photosynthesis but we hope this system will help cut the gas further," said Masao Ikoma, managing director at Kansai Electric.
Toyota Floritech is a 50-50 joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. and Hakusan Co. Ltd., a Japanese firm dealing with seeds and seedling.
The basic design of the automated farm came from Denmark. It employs only eight full-time, non-clerical employees who work in the greenhouse with support of 30 to 40 part-timers.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008