COURTESY RUSSELL COMMUNICATIONS GROUP
Safe Renewables Corp.'s Texas biodiesel refinery, above, supplies fuel to what it says is the nation's first 100-percent biodiesel-powered turbine power plant. The company's chairman, part-time Hawaii resident Jeffrey Kissel, says the technology may have unique applications to Hawaii.
Biodiesel company eyes move to isles
Safe Renewables Corp. wants to use Hawaii as its base to develop alternative fuel sources
A pioneering Texas biodiesel-refining company run by a part-time Hawaii resident is looking to expand its operations to the islands.
Safe Renewables Corp. is providing the fuel to what it says is the nation's first 100-percent biodiesel-powered turbine power plant, run by Biofuels Power Corp. on Texas land owned by SRC.
SRC, based in Conroe, Texas, will supply up to 1 million gallons per month of pure biodiesel (B100) for the new 10-megawatt turbine plant. A 5-megawatt plant on the site began producing power in March.
"This is a breakthrough for our company and the biodiesel industry, as it represents the first commercial generating plant wholly powered by renewable fuel in the United States," said Jeffrey Kissel, SRC chairman, president and chief executive officer.
A graduate of the University of Hawaii, Kissel's ties to the islands go back to the early 1970s. His current interests in Hawaii include serving on the board of ML Macadamia Orchards LP and developing future markets for SRC's biodiesel fuel -- a clean burning, environmentally friendly alternative fuel made from oils derived from farm crops and animal fats.
As one of the few companies producing commercial quantities of biodiesel in the United States, SRC uses a proprietary process at its plant in Conroe that is capable of switching among multiple vegetable oil and animal fat feedstocks, Kissel said.
While SRC began operations in Texas, it has several proposals on the table to supply Hawaii companies, including HECO, with biodiesel, he said. The company is also talking to investors about using Hawaii as a base to develop alternative fuel feedstock sources such as algae, Kissel said.
"We are in discussion with several companies and have been pleased with the reception that we have been getting in Hawaii," Kissel said. "We started in Texas because we needed to be in one of the world's fuel centers to develop our business. We'd like to move out to Hawaii next."
Kissel, who worked for many years in the petroleum and environmental engineering industries prior to becoming head of SRC, has plans to share the expertise that the company developed in Texas with Hawaii. While the fuel feedstock used in Texas will primarily be poultry fat, sourced from large poultry processing operations in Texas, SRC has identified algae as a promising feedstock for biodiesel fuels, Kissel said.
"We are doing algae research in Houston at our plant and would like to move it to Hawaii if we could," he said. "The fact that Hawaii is isolated from diseases and the climatic problems that the mainland has when it tries to grow algae would make it a good place to develop the strains."
While the idea to bring algae feedstock development to Hawaii lacks capitalization, it could be viable within the next two years, Kissel said.
"It's very hard to grow algae in Minnesota in the wintertime. What Hawaii may lack in business infrastructure and regulatory areas, it makes up for in other ways," Kissel said.
As the crossroads of the Pacific, Hawaii also offers a progressive international environment where research and development can grow, he said.
"It's one of only 10 states that offer tax credits for research and development," said Kissel. "Hawaii's tax credit can bring investment capital to us that we couldn't get in other states including Texas."
Developing algae as a fuel feedstock would help Hawaii alleviate its heavy reliance on imports of petroleum and coal for power generation, Kissel said.
From Hawaii to Maine, government mandates are increasingly requiring utilities and others to accelerate their efforts to generate electric power from renewable fuel sources. Environmentally conscious power companies are seeking to meet more of their electricity generating needs using renewable resources, including biodiesel.
"Biodiesel production linked to power generation facilities provides a useful solution for regionalizing power production for municipal, industrial and military customers, and peak-shaving backup for utilities," Kissel said.
An algae operation in Hawaii would provide the state with a locally produced renewable fuel source as well as create a few hundred jobs for skilled technicians and scientists, he said.
"I really think there are some opportunities to move the whole program ahead in Hawaii," Kissel said.