Isle landowners to check out biofuels
The partners include Maui Land & Pine, Grove Farm and Kamehameha Schools
Three of the state's largest landowners are forming a partnership to study the viability of a large-scale biofuels industry in Hawaii.
The consortium, known as Hawaii BioEnergy LLC, plans to study the availability of land for growing crops that could be converted to fuels, which crops or feed stock would be most efficient and which technologies would be best for making the conversion.
Partners include Maui Land & Pineapple Co., Grove Farm Co. and Kamehameha Schools, which together own about 10 percent of land in the state.
The group plans to spend about $1 million over the next six months studying available resources in Hawaii, said David Cole, president and chief executive officer of Maui Land & Pineapple.
Biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are fuels made by converting the biomass in crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans, sugar and their byproducts, including waste material. Such fuels can be made from renewable resources and burn cleaner than fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
The partnership was formed "to provide the detailed resources to hire the staff and hire the consultants that are necessary to really begin to seriously talk about how to achieve a higher level of energy security by growing our own fuels," Cole said. "It's a very complex set of dynamics that we need to understand."
A progress report is expected in three to four months.
Also participating in the partnership is venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems and a well-known renewable energy policy planner, Cole said.
Hawaii BioEnergy also has brought in consultants from Brazil, which many advocates say has provided the best example of an ethanol-based economy. Those partners include Brasil Bioenergia and Tarpon Investments, companies with vast experience in Brazil's ethanol industry, Cole said.
Other landowners and businesses are expected to be invited to participate later.
Meanwhile, the state plans to convene a conference on biofuels on Aug. 22.
Gov. Linda Lingle welcomed the formation of Hawaii BioEnergy. The Lingle administration and the Legislature this year have touted their bipartisan effort in coming up with a package of energy initiatives aimed at reducing Hawaii's dependence on imported oil through conservation and the development of alternative and renewable fuels.
"These are all large landowners that recognize the importance of biofuels," Lingle said. "It validates what we were talking about throughout the session -- that this is doable and we have the natural resources here in order to be successful and really be a model for the world."
The conversion of crops into ethanol has gained the most visibility in Hawaii as a means to develop a renewable fuel and reinvigorate the isles' declining sugar industry.
New mandates that began in April require that 85 percent of all gasoline sold in Hawaii contain 10 percent ethanol.
Although no ethanol is being produced locally, the first of six proposed plants is expected to come online by the second quarter of 2007, with others following soon after.
Those processors are working with sugar companies on Maui and Kauai to secure land for growing the crops that would be used as feed stocks for making ethanol.
Rinaldo Brutoco, an energy policy planner and president of a California-based business think tank, says research indicates that Hawaii would need only about 250,000 acres of land devoted to crops for ethanol to replace the roughly 500 million gallons of gasoline used here each year.
Cole said the partnership has done initial assessments on the amount of available land that could be dedicated to biofuel crops, but more study is needed.
However, he noted that the state has about 480,000 acres of good agricultural land that is undeveloped.
"That represents very good agricultural land that's laying fallow at the same time we're importing 90 percent of our fuel and 85 percent of our food," Cole said. "Therefore, let's find a way to get back in the game and live like islanders again."