The Japanese train running on leftover ramen broth

By Tamanna Wadhwani  May 19th, 2023

A tourist train in Japan has found an innovative alternative to conventional fuel - leftover ramen broth from local restaurants.

The popularity of ramen, a renowned Japanese noodle dish, has transcended borders. However, a common issue faced by many restaurants serving the specialty dish is what to do with the leftover broth. 

In an impressive display of innovation, Japan has found a solution by utilising this leftover broth as an alternative fuel source for a tourist train running on the famous Takachiho Amaterasu railway. This scenic railway along a decommissioned section of commuter rail offers a delightful 30-minute sightseeing tour, accommodating up to 60 passengers. 

Developed by Japanese transportation company, Nishida Logistics, the ramen-based biodiesel being used to power the train is made from salvaged resources from local restaurants. The biodiesel is created by combining 90% used tempura oil and other cooking oils, and 10% leftover tonkotsu ramen broth. Not only does this biodiesel match the price of conventional fossil fuels, but it has also proven powerful enough to propel the train uphill. 

Apart from the appealing aroma compared to the noxious fumes emitted by regular fuels, the ramen-infused fuel contributes to reducing food waste, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and replacing damaging fossil fuels. 

However, this isn’t the first time Japan has harnessed the power of ramen broth for transportation. Over a decade ago, Masumi Nishida, chairman of Nishida Logistics, was approached by a restaurant owner specialising in tonkotsu ramen. The owner expressed concerns about rising waste disposal costs and sought alternative uses for the leftover broth. 

In response, Nishida installed special equipment in restaurants to extract the fat content from leftover broth, which then served as a component for the biodiesel. This biodiesel was made commercially available, and after a few trials was also able to power around 170 Nishida trucks. 

As the world moves towards cleaner sources of energy, numerous inventions with biodiesel have emerged worldwide, such as a French airline company utilising cooking oil to power its flights. These circular approaches to using what was previously considered waste for new applications, especially where replacing fossil fuels and other environmentally damaging materials and substances, will be an important component to a greener and more sustainable future. 

Tamanna Wadhwani

Tamanna moved from India to Australia to pursue a degree in environmental science and conservation biology. After learning about the concept of a circular economy in 2020, she worked with various organisations in this sector and is interested in solving complex climate change and waste management problems. She loves to communicate with people about all things sustainability or animals. Outside of work, Tamanna is a budding hip hop dancer who also loves travelling, cat cuddles and reading.

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