USDA Announces Partnerships in Hawaii to Help Navy Achieve its Biofuel and Other Renewable Energy Goals

Release No. 0174.10
Contact: Sandy Miller Hays (301) 504-1637

HONOLULU, April 7, 2010 – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today announced a series of public and private partnerships designed to help establish commercial production of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems in Hawaii for use by the Department of the Navy.

"Hawaii, with its semitropical climate, is among the states with the greatest potential to produce biomass," said Merrigan. "And, with its significant naval presence and its heavy reliance on imported fuels, Hawaii is a perfect location for growing biomass for the production of advanced biofuels and using the vast other renewable resources available to develop other advanced energy systems."

The announcement follows a day-long meeting here on Tuesday, April 6, with representatives of the Department of the Navy, the Department of Energy, the state government of Hawaii, the office of Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the University of Hawaii and others to discuss ways in which USDA could help the U.S. Navy move towards greater use of biofuels and the development of other renewable energy systems.

Hawaii’s last sugar plantation to be biofuel ‘lab’ – BusinessWeek

Photo by Maui Tropica
CLICK HERE for more Maui Sugar Cane images


Hawaii’s last sugar plantation could start producing jet fuel for the Navy.

Federal agencies on Wednesday announced they would spend millions of dollars to study producing advanced biofuels from sugarcane grown at Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar’s fields on Maui.

The Office of Naval Research is budgeting $2 million annually for the project through 2015, with a focus on producing diesel and jet fuel from sugar.

The Department of Energy is spending $2 million a year to have the University of Hawaii study energy crop development and energy conversion technologies.

HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin says his company will be a "working laboratory" to test the potential of biofuel production.

"This federal funding represents a vote of confidence in Hawaii and in the future of HC&S," Benjamin said in a news release. "It is a significant step toward our goal of transforming HC&S into a large-scale energy farm, playing a key role in securing Hawaii’s energy future."

The company, a unit of Alexander & Baldwin Inc., said its vast fields, access to water, farming infrastructure and labor force make it an ideal candidate to produce biofuels on a large scale.

HC&S has long diverted water from East Maui streams to irrigate its fields in arid Central Maui. But this practice is currently facing challenges.

Taro farmers have petitioned the state’s Commission on Water Resource Management to restore more flow to the streams, and prevent HC&S from diverting its usual volumes of water. The case is pending before the water commission.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who met Wednesday with HC&S and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials about the project, said the research could benefit biofuel development efforts not just in Hawaii but also across the country.

"The sugar industry’s infrastructure in Hawaii … will be put to good use producing a variety of biofuels," said Inouye in a statement issued by the department.

Hawaii’s last sugar plantation to be biofuel ‘lab’ – BusinessWeek

HC&S studying future as biofuels plantation – The Maui News


By Chris Hamilton

POSTED: April 7, 2010

Sugar Cane Tassel
CLICK HERE for larger image
PUUNENE — Within the next five years to 10 years, Hawaii’s last sugar producer, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. could be out of the topsy-turvy granulated sugar business and making much-desired biofuels, company, federal and state officials announced Wednesday afternoon.

The U.S. Department of Energy, though the University of Hawaii, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Navy will receive $6 million annually to help HC&S determine whether it is feasible to convert the more than 130-year-old company into an "energy farm," or a high-tech producer of renewable fuels, said HC&S General Manager Chris Benjamin at a news conference.

It would be a dramatic transformation, participants said. The move could preserve hundreds of agricultural jobs on Maui for decades to come and potentially lead to tens of millions of dollars in capital improvement investments to the aging sugar mill.

"This (funding) could help define a new future for HC&S as an alternative energy producer," Benjamin said.

Leading Role for HC&S in Hawaii Renewable Energy Research, Biofuels — Federal Funding to be Provided – DailyFinance

Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) today announced that it is at the center of significant new Hawaii-based research initiatives on biofuels, working closely with the University of Hawaii and various federal agencies to realize the promise of expanded production of clean, renewable energy.

In today’s announcement, HC&S noted support from Sen. Daniel K. Inouye in detailing annual federal funding of at least $4 million that will be made available through two separate programs, one funded by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the other by the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), to conduct research at HC&S.

The DOE funding of $2 million annually will be directed to research on energy crop development and energy conversion technologies to be conducted by the University’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). The ONR funding, also $2 million annually, will support complementary crop and technology assessments, as well as an evaluation of long-term resource requirements for biomass production. In announcing the ONR portion of the funding, US Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said the USDA would direct the research initiatives, providing $2 million per year through 2015, to help Hawaii accelerate sustainable biofuel feedstock production.

Hawaii crops, algae may get funded for military biofuel | The Honolulu Advertiser


The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Navy are hoping to jumpstart the growth of crops and algae in Hawai’i that can be used for military fuel as part of an aggressive drive by the Pentagon to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and increase renewable energy sources.

An industry forum Tuesday and Wednesday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii will bring together government officials and potential biofuel companies from Hawai’i and the Mainland. As many as 40 companies and 250 people are expected to attend.

The Navy and the Agriculture Department want to evaluate the use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to set up biofuel projects in Hawai’i "as soon as possible."

How much funding remains unclear, but Hawai’i was selected for the initial collaboration between the two federal entities "because Hawai’i’s energy costs are among the highest in the nation and imported oil supplies 90 percent of the state’s energy," the USDA said. "A viable agricultural sector in Hawai’i can enhance Hawai’i’s energy security, and energy projects like those anticipated by the Navy’s needs can help rural economies."

HECO seeking proposals for locally-based supply of biofuel | The Honolulu Advertiser


Hawaiian Electric said today it is looking for a long-term supply of biofuels made from feedstocks produced and processed in Hawaii.

HECO Executive Vice President Robbie Alm said that the formal quest for proposals is the next stage in the company’s commitment to create a clear market for locally grown biofuels.

He says this first call for proposals will test the market and determine what HECO’s next actions must be.

The company is looking for biofuel supplies it can use at generation sites on Oahu, Maui, Molokai and the Big Island.

Proposals may use land- or water-based crops, waste animal fat or yellow grease feedstocks that may be converted to liquid biofuel.

Respondents are being encouraged to think broadly about the larger benefits of their approaches.

HECO says letters of intent are due by May 7, 2010 and that the final acceptance date for submitted proposals is June 18, 2010.

HECO seeking proposals for locally-based supply of biofuel | | The Honolulu Advertiser


WASHINGTON, March 18, 2010 – The U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Navy are co-hosting an all day forum in Hawaii on April 6, 2010, to share information about a recently announced collaborative energy opportunity. Among those providing remarks are Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen A. Merrigan and Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for installations and environment. The program is taking place on the Marine Corps Base-Hawaii in the Kaneohe Bay Officers Club.

Earlier this year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to support President Obama’s initiative to reduce energy consumption derived from fossil fuels and increase energy production from renewable energy sources. This energy initiative in Hawaii is a direct result of that MOU.

Hawaii has been selected as the location for the initial collaboration between USDA and the Navy because Hawaii’s energy costs are among the highest in the nation and imported oil supplies 90 percent of the State’s energy. A viable agricultural sector in Hawaii can enhance Hawaii’s energy security, and energy projects like those anticipated by the Navy’s needs can help rural economies.

Univ. of Ill. studies nematodes in biofuel crops – Yahoo! Finance

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — University of Illinois researchers say that a common crop parasite called a nematode has been found in large numbers on two plants being grown to make biofuels.

They aren’t sure yet if that’s a serious problem. But they’re studying the microscopic round worms and the miscanthus and switch grass plants they were discovered on to find out.

Researchers at the university’s Energy Biosciences Institute say some of the tiny parasites they’ve found reduce biomass in plants. The amount of biomass produced by the plants being studied is one key factor in how much fuel they can produce.

Nematodes are a common crop pest. Biofuel crops where they have been found were in Illinois, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Univ. of Ill. studies nematodes in biofuel crops – Yahoo! Finance

SG Biofuels Launches World’s First Elite Jatropha Cultivar

SAN DIEGO, Feb. 22 /PRNewswire/ — SG Biofuels, a sustainable plant oil company specializing in the development of Jatropha as a low-cost, sustainable source of oil, today announced the launch of JMax 100, a proprietary cultivar of Jatropha optimized for growing conditions in Guatemala with yields 100 percent greater than existing varieties.

JMax 100 is the first elite cultivar developed through the company’s JMax Jatropha Optimization Platform.  The platform provides growers and plantation developers with access to the highest yielding and most profitable Jatropha in the world, the sequenced genome and advanced biotech and synthetic biology tools to develop cultivars specifically optimized for their unique growing conditions.

"The yields and profitability of JMax100 and the JMax platform far exceed what is currently available through existing varieties of Jatropha," said Kirk Haney, President and Chief Executive Officer of SG Biofuels.  "In Guatemala, we have utilized the world’s largest library of Jatropha genetic material and our advanced genetic program to enable exponential increases in productivity and profitability, and establish Jatropha as a large-scale sustainable energy crop."