Kings of the Bioeconomy: Pacific Biodiesel keeps getting it done

April 30, 2017 |

There just isn’t an organization out there like Pacific Biodiesel. Labors on, fighting the good fight, hitting every sustainability grace note, and always surprising the industry with one more innovative way of doing things.

And here’s one more thing to like  — Maui sunflowers.

Last week, after hosting an Earth Day community event the previous weekend to celebrate the first blooms in its Maui sunflower biofuel crop, Pacific Biodiesel Technologies delivered its combine harvester to the crop site to prepare for the first harvest, expected to begin in the next month when the sunflowers have fully matured.

The current sunflower field sits on 14 acres of an initial 115-acre crop project site that will help expand diversified agriculture by growing combine-harvested oil crops on land previously used for sugar cane production. Currently this is the largest biofuel crop project in the state of Hawaii and the only biofuel farming operation in the state running on 100% renewable fuel, demonstrating the company’s sustainable, community-based model of agriculture and renewable energy.  Pacific Biodiesel planted sunflowers as its first biofuel crop on Maui, applying the knowledge learned from its past experience and partnership with the U.S. military as part of the Hawaii Military Biofuels Crop Program that demonstrated the planting, growing and processing of biodiesel feedstocks on Oahu and Hawaii island.

Bob and Kelly King, co-founders of Pacific Biodiesel

It’s no fly by night enterprise. Bob and Kelly have been at this long enough (more than 20 years) that, as it happens, they own the domain name. The comapny was founded on Maui in 1995 to recycle waste cooking oil into renewable fuel, Pacific Biodiesel is now the oldest biodiesel company in America and has since focused on advancing process technology as well as feedstock and co-product development. The community-based biodiesel model has become a standard for the sustainable biodiesel industry.

The combine

Pacific Biodiesel purchased the combine from a family farm in Northern California. It will be used to mechanically harvest the sunflowers and other oil and grain crops – and it will operate on 100% biodiesel produced by the company at its refinery on the Big Island. “We look forward to experimenting with harvesting our first sunflowers. With this combine, we’ll be able to harvest a variety of crops that we’re planning to grow in the future, including safflower, canola and maybe even chickpeas in addition to the sunflowers,” said Bob King, President and Founder of Pacific Biodiesel.

The backstory

We reported back in February that In Hawaii, Pacific Biodiesel Technologies commenced its initial crop project on 115 acres. Based on Pacific Biodiesel’s experience growing sunflowers, the company expected an initial yield of 100+ gallons of oil per acre per harvest, with up to three harvests per year possible

“Think of it as 100+ acres of energy storage and carbon sequestration,” said Kelly King, Vice President and Co-Founder of Pacific Biodiesel and recently inaugurated member of the Maui County Council. “There are 36,000 acres of fertile sugar cane lands on Maui that ceased operation at the end of 2016. It is important for the community and the state to keep this land in agriculture to benefit Maui’s economy and environment, and to help the state increase its energy security, reduce reliance on fossil fuel, and achieve its 100% renewable energy mandate by 2045.”

Pacific Biodiesel begins farming  Hawaii’s biggest biofuel crop

Pacific Biodiesel jumped in size two years ago it acquired Big Island Biodiesel, LLC, and BIB became a wholly owned subsidiary of PBT, as we reported in July 2015.

Pacific Biodiesel president Robert King noted it is fitting to expand membership in Pacific Biodiesel in his company’s 20th anniversary year. PBT’s newest members joined the oldest and most experienced biodiesel business in America.

Pacific Biodiesel acquires Big Island Biodiesel, consolidates in Hawaii

The company has transformed itself over the years. As we reported in April 2014, the company shut its biodiesel plant on Maui, the longest continually operating biodiesel plant in the country. The facility was launched in 1996 as the prototype for the company. Now the used cooking oil collected in Maui and Lanai will be processed at the facility on the Big Island that opened in 2012. New Maui regulations and the lack of economic viability to undertake the upgrades required with the new regulations forced the shutdown.

Pacific Biodiesel shuts down Maui biodiesel plant

More than transportation

As we reported in Octiber 2015, Hawaiian Electric has a contract with Pacific Biodiesel Technologies to obtain biodiesel for Oahu power generators. The two-year contract, which expires this November, is for a minimum of 2 MMgy and up to 3 MMgy. The renewable fuel is slated for use primarily at the 110-megawatt Campbell Industrial Park generation facility and the Honolulu International Airport Emergency Power Facility, yet could also be used at other Oahu power plants as needed.

The advanced biofuel will be produced at Pacific Biodiesel’s newest facility, Big Island Biodiesel, which began operations in 2012.


Sustainable practices


Bob King explained the company’s sustainable farming practices, “We have carefully chosen our crops to be mindful of the inputs. We are also actively researching and using alternatives to chemical fertilizer/pesticides, including compost from Maui EKO to replace fertilizer and crop rotation to reduce pests. So far we have used no irrigation but we will during hot summer months. We have used no herbicides or pesticides, and we don’t plan to ever use them. Also, these are non-GMO crops.”


“The major bloom is now over and the plants next will dry down for harvest. People are already noticing that the flowers are starting to droop over and turn brown. This is completely natural and part of the lifecycle of the plant. When the flowers have fully matured and dried, which will happen in another three or four weeks, they will be ready for harvest,” King said about the status of the crop. “Last week we planted our second sunflower crop adjacent to the first crop; it should begin blooming two months from now. We have begun planning for safe ways to enjoy the next crop and will announce those options in the future.”


Vice President Kelly King said, “As eye-catching symbols of sustainability, these beautiful blooms showcase Pacific Biodiesel’s community-based model of agriculture, clean energyand food — and they give us hope for our state’s green economy future.”

The Earth Day event


During the event, guests were given sunflower blooms freshly cut from the field and were invited to plant a seed for the next crop, take photos in the sunflower field and enter the company’s Earth Day 2017 sunflower photo contest. Now, how innvovative and thoughtful is that?

Maui Tropical Plantation partnered with Pacific Biodiesel to provide public parking for the event; guests were transported to the farm site on complimentary shuttles fueled with the company’s locally made biodiesel. The event also featured special live performances by musician friends of Pacific Biodiesel, including Gail Swanson, Cheryl Rae Mullen, Maná Brasil with Bita Fonseca and Klaudia Raab, Tom Conway, Pat Simmons Jr., Marty Dread and Soul Kitchen Maui.


The event was held on Earth Day to commemorate the company’s one year anniversary of being named the world’s first biodiesel producer certified by the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance for sustainable production and distribution practices. “ we reported on that last April, here.

Eco Champion” passes were sold at the event for $20 that included various Earth Day items; net proceeds benefitted the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance to support local, sustainable biodiesel production in communities across the nation.

4 Minutes with Kelly

Back in 2015, we featured this “4-Minutes with Kelly Takaya King” as part of our Million Minds series.

More about Pacific Biodiesel

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