CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dr. Samir Khanal, UH-Manoa molecular biosciences and bioengineering professor, was on a research project that converted what is now a waste product from ethanol production in corn so it can be used as fish meal and for other things. He is doing research here on same thing with conversion of sugar to ethanol.
UH tests ethanol waste as animal feed
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Research at the University of Hawaii could hold the key to turning a profit in producing ethanol fuel from sugar cane in Hawaii.
The research involves a method to turn a waste product called vinasse into fish or cattle feed that could be sold to local fish farms and ranches.
Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co. says the results could help determine whether the company goes into ethanol production here.
The ethanol fermentation process produces 10 to 15 gallons of vinasse, said Lee Jakeway, director of energy development for the sugar company. "We really don't have a good solution for it now. That's been holding us back from moving forward with ethanol production."
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University of Hawaii researchers are developing technology to convert what is now a waste product from sugar cane ethanol production into a substitute for imported fishmeal.
The results could help determine whether Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Co. goes into ethanol production, said Lee Jakeway, director of energy development.
UH-Manoa scientist Samir Khanal said his team is looking at converting residue called vinasse from sugar cane ethanol production on Maui and Kauai.
"It comes from the fermentation process," Khanal, UH-Manoa molecular biosciences and bioengineering professor, explained. "Once we get ethanol out, it may have similar characteristics with corn ethanol and lots of micronutrients."
Khanal was co-investigator of an Iowa State University project that won the 2008 Grand Prize for University Research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers.
The Iowa researchers grew a fungus in fermentation leftovers from corn-produced ethanol. They said it saved energy, recycled more water and improved livestock feed.
Jakeway said HC&S is supporting Khanal's research because the technology "would be helpful in upgrading what is considered a waste product into something that would be value-added as animal feed."
The ethanol fermentation process produces 10 to 15 gallons of vinasse, the waste product, he said. "We really don't have a good solution for it now. That's been holding us back from moving forward with ethanol production.
"Basically, we would be switching from sugar crystal production to ethanol fuel production, jumping from one commodity into another," he said. "We've been seeing gains in energy prices but, interestingly, we just started seeing increases in sugar prices as well."
Khanal's project has potential for both aquaculture and agriculture, Jakeway said. "Cattlemen are interested in alternative feeds. On Maui, we use our cane trash already for animal feed supplements and a supplement for molasses."
Clyde Tamaru, UH Sea Grant agriculture extension specialist and co-investigator on the project, said Khanal's research is "very far-reaching." Alternative protein sources must be developed to replace imported fishmeal, he said.
"A good example is we have two open-ocean farms for moi and kahala, which require high protein diets," he noted. "Most come from fishmeal. Environmentalists say it is not an efficient way of doing things, that it is not helping the status of the fishery to take fish to feed fish."
"Right now, it is still efficient because the cost of fishmeal as a protein source is one of the most inexpensive sources of protein," Tamaru added. "Eventually that is going to change."
In his project proposal, Khanal pointed out that large amounts of vinasse leftovers from ethanol fermentation, if not utilized, "may pose a disposal problem to already overburdened landfills."
With rising transportation costs to import feed, he said there is "a pressing need" to develop a locally available low cost substitute for imported fishmeal and other imported protein.
Khanal's UH co-investigators include Harry Ako and Jon-Paul Bingham in the Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering Department and James Carpenter in the Food & Animal Sciences Department and at Oceanic Institute, Warren Dominy, Aquatic Feeds and Nutrition Department director.