10 answer HECO’s call for biofuel

Local production is the key to gradually moving the state away from imported fuel

By Alan Yonan Jr.

The state’s quest for energy independence took a step forward with Hawaiian Electric Co. receiving bids from 10 companies seeking to supply the utility with biofuel produced locally to burn in its power plants.

    There are a number of potential biofuel feedstocks that can be produced in Hawaii, including:

      » Sugar cane
      » Sorghum
      » Jatropha
      » Eucalyptus
      » Invasive trees
      » Algae
      » Microbes
      » Yeast
      » Waste products

HECO said it would begin buying the renewable fuel over the next five years, starting with small amounts and gradually expanding its intake as the fledgling biofuel industry matures in Hawaii.

"We are pleased with the strong response," said HECO spokesman Peter Rosegg.

The deadline for companies to submit bids was Friday, and HECO is now evaluating the proposals. The names of the companies will not be made public until the winning bid or bids are announced.

The initiative is part of the state’s Clean Energy Initiative, which calls for 70 percent of Hawaii’s energy needs to be generated by renewable sources by 2030.

HECO did not specific the quantity of biofuel when it published its request for proposals, or RFP, because it wanted to give companies of all sizes a chance to participate in the bidding, said Scott Seu, HECO’s manager for resource acquisitions.

"The uniqueness of that RFP was that it’s pretty broad; it allows a lot of flexibility for the developers in the timing as well as volume of fuel that they would want to sell to us," Seu said.

While HECO set specifications for the finished biofuel product, it did not dictate what kind of raw materials producers could use. The only requirement is that the biofuel be completely produced here. Potential biofuel feedstocks that can be produced in Hawaii include algae, sugar cane, eucalyptus, invasive trees and waste products.

"Biofuel is a very broad term that can encompass lots of different types of technologies," Seu said. "Landowners and farmers are all trying to figure out what’s the best product – where does the biofuel feedstock come from." One of the companies that submitted a bid was Ohio-based Phycal LLC, which has leased 40 acres of former pineapple land in Central Oahu to grow microalgae in shallow ponds.

Algae is one of the more efficient ways to produce biofuel, with one acre of production in a simple system yielding anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 gallons a year, according to a Department of Energy publication called the U.S. Algal Biofuels Roadmap. By comparison, soybeans yield about 50 gallons of biofuel per acre annually.

State Energy Administrator Ted Peck said he was pleased with the response from bidders.

"That’s a good number. It’s really good for our energy independence," Peck said. "People need to recognize that the world is beginning to change and we are in a vulnerable position."

Kuehnle AgroSystems Inc., a life sciences company specializing in the development of live algae, is one of the peripheral companies that would benefit from HECO’s biofuel plan.

"Hopefully algae will play a role and we will be involved in the process," said Mark Ritchie, head of business development for Kuehnle

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