The story behind this rare 100% circular bioethanol from Japan
Jun 13 · 4 min read

, a Japanese company leverages unique fermentation technology, transforming the beauty industry and the local ecosystem.

In 1971, the government of Japan imposed a nationwide rice production adjustment policy, known as the gentan system, to manage the rice surplus and protect farmers from price instability.

The policy, reports say, resulted to about 1/3 of rice paddies in Japan out of rice production.

The tranquil city of Oshu, Iwate Prefecture, more than 530kms north of Tokyo, was no exception. Hectares of rice paddies were idled for decades.

It took thirty years until the farmers were able to plant rice again despite the existing policy.

Today, that rice is now being used in breaking new ground to the clean beauty movement that’s sweeping across the world.

Fermenting rice

It all started as research. Farmers asked to revive their unproductive rice fields and restore the beautiful rural landscape of Oshu.

These rice growers, together with the city government and the Tokyo University of Agriculture, conducted this study/experiment in producing biofuel using organic rice.

They designed a very unique fermentation technology derived from centuries-old sake brewing techniques.


The bioethanol they produced cost 200 times higher than the bioethanols made from sugar cane or corn.

It was obviously unprofitable to use as fuel, but soon they realized that what they have is a premium, high-value ethanol which was perfect for cosmetics and health care products.

An all-natural, organic, ethical, and traceable ethanol is, quite disappointingly, still considered rare in the beauty and cosmetic industry.

This, despite the fact that ethanol is one of the base ingredients used in most beauty and personal care products like shampoo, makeup, and other daily care necessities.

This prompted the birth of Fermenstation Co. Ltd. The founding president, Lina Sakai, was one of the leads of the research and the design of its core fermentation technology.

Fermenstation Co. Ltd. The founding president, Lina Sakai

They discovered aroma base components that come out in the pre-processing stage of fermentation and distillation. The unrefined rice residue left from the fermenting process ethanol had moisturizing ingredients and anti-oxidant and anti-aging properties.

Now that the clean beauty movement has started to reach the mainstream consciousness, there’s no better time for them to have completed their research and perfected their techniques.

“In the past year or two, large corporations have become more strongly aware of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and along with the growing awareness of clean beauty. This has led to an increase in OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) inquiries,” Sakai said.

An industry beyond clean beauty

Fermenstation’s mission doesn’t stop at its contribution to clean beauty.

They have also become a model of circular economy in the country.

By-products of their fermentation process become premium poultry and livestock feed with higher nutritional value.

Free range eggs produced by a local poultry farm they supply to have become a popular brand, along with the local confectionary made from those eggs.

The manure from this farm is supplied to Mai-mu Mai-mu Oshu to use as a natural fertilizer for growing fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, Fermenstation’s distillation residue is used for local cattle feed. Their meat is supplied to the JR East Metropolitan Hotel Group.

A world with no waste

Fermentation technology to maximize wasted or unused resources is not only limited to rice.

Last March, Fermenstation released a new product called Musubi. They collected apple pomace — a type of solid residue resulting from milling and pressing apples for cider — from Aomori and made ethanol out of it.

Musubi Room Spray, courtesy of Fermenstation Co. Ltd.

From this ethanol, they have commercially produced and released a room spray and aroma diffuser.

Sakai said it is also possible to create ethanol from tea dregs, coffee grounds, and food scraps.

“If it is possible to solve social problems by fermenting unused resources that would normally become waste, it will be an interesting world. I want to achieve a world where there is nothing unused in the future,” says Sakai.

Text: Christine Roque
Original text (): Ayako Sasaki and editorial team is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing.

Written by is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing. is a digital magazine in Japan that overviews and analyzes current movements of beauty industry focusing on technology and digital marketing.