Heating up in Hawaii – Hot news from sea to shore

June 24, 2018 |

With summer heating up and many headed to shorelines and beaches all around the world, we focus on Hawaii which has been surfing up lots of news lately. Just a few days ago, the United States Geological Survey revealed that the Kilauea volcano is undergoing the “largest scale collapse” of its summit in recent history. Lava is still flowing from a fissure in the Leilani Estates area across the island and into Kapoho Bay. The USGS warned that a dominant ocean entry on the south edge of the flow front is producing a dangerous large laze plume. Even NASA astronaut Ricky Arnold posted a photo of the bright and oozing volcano on Twitter showing that even from his post way up high in the International Space Station, this thing is huge.

But while most recent news since May 3 has been about the eruption and devastating fissures of  Kilauea on the Big Island, things are heating up in Hawaii in other, more positive, ways.

The VERGE conference was held in Honolulu last week gathering energy and transportation leaders to talk about lessons learned in clean energy and electricity that can be transferred to the transportation sector. Among the topics was how Hawaii managed to more than double the amount of electricity the state generates from clean power, boosting it from 9% in 2010 to around 25% this year. This huge accomplishment will surely help Hawaii reach its first-in-the-nation goal of powering 100% of the islands’ electricity needs with solar and wind by 2045. But will Hawaii reach its similarly bold goal of 100% of its ground transportation to be powered by renewable fuel sources by 2045? Or will it be more complicated than that?

At the conference, large vehicle fleet operators talked about the challenges with electric vehicles, causing them to focus on natural gas, hydrogen fuel cells and of course biodiesel and biofuels.

Hawaiian Electric, the state’s largest electricity provider, has a fleet of 1,486 vehicles across all the islands and while the power company accesses some public funds to help buy cleaner vehicles, it still has only converted 14% of its fleet to battery-powered, biodiesel-powered or natural gas-powered, according to Green Biz.

Roy Pfund, Vice President of Roberts Hawaii proposes that Hawaii’s incentives for electric vehicles could mirror those that kick-started the rooftop solar movement there. “One of the success stories in Hawaii has been how the state has gotten a lot of rooftop PV systems in place. That was done primarily through a combination of federal and state tax credits,” Pfund told Green Biz. “Our company would be interested in converting more vehicles if there were additional incentives as part of the process.”

Director of Transportation for the National Resources Defense Council, Amanda Eaken told Green Biz that the electricity industry is a great example because of their tight control and balance of supply and demand which could help transportation be cleaner as well.

Policy and Plants

So what can Hawaii’s transportation sector do to reach their 2045 goal of 100% renewable fuel sources? First, government needs to be on board and policies in place to encourage biofuels and renewable sources – that’s a given. And Hawaii seems to be well on their way though there is always room for more to be done.

In February, in the 2018 State of Hawaii Legislative Session, Senator Lorraine Inouye introduced SB 2019 that requires on-road fuel sold in the State to contain no less than 10% biofuel by volume by 2020 and that amends the definition of “biofuels” to include ethanol and biodiesel. The passing of SB 2019 SD1 would move the State toward its intended transportation renewable energy goals and further support the State in achieving the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2045. Written testimony regarding the proposed bill closed February 22.

As for what plants and biomaterials Hawaii is using for these renewable fuel sources, options abound as innovative companies and supporting investors pour money into getting things up to speed.

In May, the Digest reported that a new $1.5 million program from the state’s Agribusiness Development Corp. is under development to produce algae from food waste with an eye on spoiled papaya. The project would scale up successful work done at lab scale in a test tube by the Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center using papaya as feedstock for the algae. Four 2,000-gallon tanks will be located on a 1.5-acre lot next to the Pacific Biodiesel facility in Puna.

In March, the Digest reported that Lamplighter Energy is looking at buying the famous 85-square-mile Molokai Ranch in order to, in part, grow 31 square miles of hibiscus for biofuel production. The move is controversial because the local community wants the ranch to be used by small farmers to produce food as has been done for generations. The company’s plan would include 8 square miles of land available for farming. A leading local activist has asked the company to give the community six months to come up with options that would allow it to support the biofuel proposal.

As reported in The Digest in August 2017, pongamia trees are being farmed for the first time in experimental plots in Oahu to help meet Hawaii’s biofuel needs, specifically for biodiesel and jet fuel. TerViva is heading up the plantings and is talking with Pacific Biodiesel to possibly use their processing plant, though TerViva could make biodiesel with their current equipment. The Digest’s take is that the pros definitely outweigh the few cons surrounding pongamia trees, making them a valuable feedstock to keep an eye out for and invest in for Hawaii’s future.

As reported by The Digest in November 2017, Hawaiian Electric Company and Pacific Biodiesel Technologies reached an agreement for the Maui-based biofuel company to supply biodiesel processed from recycled waste cooking oil and other local feedstocks for the 50-megawatt Schofield Generating Station, eight-megawatt Honolulu International Airport Emergency Power Facility, and other Oahu generation facilities as needed. The three-year renewable contract for 2 million to 4 million gallons per year went into effect in 2018. Biodiesel processed at Pacific Biodiesel’s refinery on Hawaii Island will be barged to Oahu in secure, stainless-steel containers and trucked to sites where it will be used.

In August 2017, the Digest reported that the groundbreaking for Hawaii’s first public fueling station for hydrogen vehicles located on Oahu occurred. Hawaii plans on selling hydrogen fueled cars, like the latest Toyota Mirai, by next year and the fueling station should be completed by early 2018. The Mirai has an estimated cost of $55,000 but can go about 312 miles before refueling and only takes a few minutes to refuel using electrolyzed water that splits into hydrogen and water. To sweeten the deal, Servco Pacific is looking into offering Mirai car owners with free fuel for three years. The only emissions from driving the hydrogen car? Water.

Bottom Line

Will Hawaii reach their ambitious goal of 100% renewable fuel sources by 2045 as easily as their electricity goal? Maybe, maybe not. Hawaii has moved the needle quickly with renewable electricity hiking up to 25% this year and has definitely taken advantage of all that hot lava and active volcanoes for geothermal energy to power homes, but they aren’t there yet with transportation so we see a longer, winder, bumpier road with fuels.

If Hawaii can get things moving with supportive policies like Senator Inouye’s biofuel SB 2019 bill, that will help companies like TerViva, Pacific Biodiesel, Servco Pacific, Lamplighter Energy and others heat things up more quickly to reach that 2045 goal. And who knows, maybe someone will really heat things up and create a way to convert all that hot lava into biofuel, which would be fitting given their state motto of “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono” or translated from Hawaiian to be “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

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