Ethanol's promise for self-reliant energy not quite there
Hawaiian Electric says it plans to use ethanol at a proposed power plant.
HAWAIIAN Electric Co.'s jump onto the ethanol bandwagon
could be construed as a way to gain support for a new power plant it wants to build at Campbell Industrial Park.
Even so, its tentative plan to blend the plant-based fuel with naphtha for electricity production could help ethanol businesses that are just getting started in Hawaii.
Ethanol holds some promise in reducing the state's need for fossil fuels to power vehicles while simultaneously boosting agriculture. As an incentive, the state will require that at least 85 percent of gasoline sold here contain 10 percent ethanol.
The requirement becomes effective next month. However, due to market forces, no ethanol will be produced in Hawaii before mid-2007 when two plants hope to be on line. Even more distant is the abundant availability of crops -- sugar cane and sorghum -- that can be converted into ethanol. Until all the pieces are in place, ethanol use will have a minimum effect in shrinking demand for oil and coal.
Hawaiian Electric, which hasn't yet won approval for its controversial plant, says it would like to burn ethanol, but faces several hurdles, including whether the product can be obtained.
Oahu Ethanol Corp. says it will be ready to open its taps sometime next year, but will have to import molasses for refining since there isn't enough "feedstock" grown here. It eventually plans to grow sorghum, a plant with a high sugar content that makes it a good candidate for ethanol, but harvests are several years away.
Maui Ethanol, which also hopes to be operating next year, will refine sugar grown on Kauai by long-time cane growers Gay & Robinson and from Maui's Hawaiian Sugar & Commercial Co., but both will have to adjust the type of sugar plantings for optimal ethanol production.
The state's dual goals in requiring the ethanol-gasoline blend is to cut fossil-fuel dependence and promote agriculture. For the first, ethanol use is but a small step. Producing ethanol itself entails fossil fuels for electricity, powering harvesting and transportation vehicles and extraction machinery. In time, refiners say, they will be able to run their operations on ethanol or through production "byproducts."
As for promoting agriculture, Hawaii has the climate, soil and expertise for sugar production, but sugar is a thirsty plant and water resources once devoted to plantations aren't as readily available today as in the past. Sorghum's drought tolerance makes it promising and though it is usually less susceptible to disease and insects, the islands' permissive environment might require undesirable herbicide and pesticide application.