Kauai sugar company sees future in biofuels
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Kauai sugar producer Gay & Robinson Inc. could soon be known as an energy company.
The company, which is one of only two remaining sugar operations in Hawaii, is looking expand its renewable energy projects to include a 20-million-gallon biodiesel plant and a 5-megawatt solar energy facility.
President and General Manager Alan Kennett emphasized the company's focus on energy sources at a biotechnology and bioenergy conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village yesterday.
"We are literally becoming an energy company," Kennett said. "It gives us more opportunities."
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Sugar may be sweet, but it is energy production that could help sweeten profits for Gay & Robinson Inc.
The Kaumakani, Kauai-based company is looking to expand its renewable energy projects to include a 20-million-gallon biodiesel plant and a 5-megawatt solar energy facility, company president and general manager Alan Kennett said at a biotechnology and bioenergy conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village yesterday.
"Kauai has the highest electricity rates in the nation," Kennett said. "So you get an understanding of why we at Gay & Robinson are literally at a transformation, converting our sugar company from a sugar company into an energy company."
Gay & Robinson is currently in the permitting stage for a 12-million-gallon-a-year biodiesel plant set to start production in 2009. The plant would create ethanol made from sugar juice and molasses. The company also has plans for a biomass boiler and turbine facility, both to power the ethanol plant and to sell to a local utility company.
Pacific West Energy LLC, a Vancouver, Wash.-based firm, worked to secure the funding for the project and will partner with Gay & Robinson to form Gay & Robinson Ag-Energy LLC.
Kennett said the company is evaluating the costs of palm oil, which would be the likely feedstock for the larger biodiesel plant. He is also evaluating land-use issues concerning the construction of a solar facility on 30 acres of agricultural land.
"We have a location disadvantage today in having to get our product to the market," he said. "By going into the energy sector, we have a transportation benefit because all of our product will stay here within the isles."
The company produces about 50,000 tons of raw sugar a year, which it ships to a C&H Sugar Co. refinery in California.
The company also plans to add 4,000 acres of land and is considering adding a jatropha crop for biodiesel production, because jatropha requires less water than sugar and could be cultivated using the same machinery used to harvest macadamia nuts.
"We were thinking we were going to go the way of the other sugar companies," he said in an interview. "Now we have this new lease on life."