Algae-power has great potential for Hawaii
A team of local companies plans to develop a microalgae facility to produce oil for biodiesel.
Commercial production of microalgae for biofuels adds another promising component to Hawaii's goal of meeting some of its energy needs through nonpetroleum sources.
Although the venture is still in preliminary stages, the project has great potential for growing a nonfood crop that can yield far more oil on less land than such problematic plants as jatropha and palm. A further benefit would be the capture of some carbon dioxide emissions to feed the microalgae.
Three local companies -- HR BioPetroleum, Alexander & Baldwin and Hawaiian Electric Industries subsidiaries -- will collaborate on developing a facility on Maui to produce one-celled plants now being tested in Kona. The biodiesel derived will be sold to power Maui Electric Co.'s Maalaea plant, which will supply carbon dioxide on which algae thrives. A&B will provide up to 1,000 acres of adjacent land for shallow ponds to cultivate the algae.
When properly fed, microalgae will produce lipids or vegetable oil. Algae biodiesel yields run from 6,000 to 10,000 gallons per acre a year, or more than 10 times the 600 gallons per acre from palm or jatropha. The fast-growing algae uses brackish water, most of which can be reclaimed.
Production and environmental concerns still need to be addressed before the plant starts up in about three years. However, with the prospects for a cleaner-burning fuel, the project should be encouraged.
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