Hawaiian Electric Co. engineers knew they were venturing into the unknown when company executives tasked them with finding out whether one of the utility’s 40-year-old petroleum-fired steam generating units could run on crude palm oil.
For years the tropical vegetable oil has been used primarily as an ingredient in a variety of consumer goods like snack foods, soaps and cosmetics. It’s what makes the center of an Oreo cookie creamy and a Cheez-It cracker crispy.
As a fuel source, palm oil didn’t receive any serious consideration until a few years ago when Malaysia began refining it into a biofuel, which the country’s oil companies blend with petroleum-based diesel for use in automobiles.
But generating electricity using crude palm oil? “As far as we knew, no one had ever fired a steam turbine using 100 percent crude vegetable oil,” said Ron Cox, HECO’s vice president for generation and fuels.
HECO launched the project last year at the Kahe Power Plant as part of an experiment to see how various alternative fuels will work in its group of oil-fired boilers. HECO has pledged to have alternative energy make up 40 percent of its electricity production by 2030.
Mahalo for coverage of the palm oil importation (The Maui News, Nov. 11) that seems to remain an issue despite all the talk about development of local, sustainable biofuel crops. Some corrections to the article are in order.
The inaccuracies are not The Maui News’ fault, assuming Hawaiian Electric Co.’s Pete Rosegg was quoted correctly. Pete stated that Pacific Biodiesel “withdrew their supply to (Maui Electric Co.),” which is absolutely not true. It’s unfortunate that the corporate communications director did not check his facts as he would have found out that Pacific Biodiesel continues to supply the contracted amount of fuel to MECO and even extended our contract from the last time it ended.
He also said he was waiting for Pacific Biodiesel to “respond to questions about their proposal.” We have answered all their questions and have been waiting for weeks for them to reply to us with a meeting date to discuss our concerns about their fuel spec, which is not an existing ASTM fuel specification.
Saying something is true and being quoted in the newspaper does not make it so, and stating you want to purchase biodiesel when you have requested fuel with different specifications implies the opposite.
Maui environmental groups are organizing a letter-writing campaign to persuade Hawaiian Electric Co. and the state government to head off plans to import palm oil from Malaysia to be used in a test at Maui Electric Co.’s Maalaea power plant.
The international campaign was sparked by a German group, Rainforest-Rescue.org. Maui Tomorrow Foundation, Sierra Club Maui and the statewide group Life of the Land are protesting here in the islands.
They oppose a Public Utilities Commission decision to allow HECO to use palm oil at Campbell Industrial Park and to allow Maui Electric to test palm oil at Maalaea.
A spokesman for HECO said Tuesday: “We share a concern for the environment and human rights, which is why in 2007 Hawaiian Electric worked with the Natural Resources Defense Council to create a sustainable biofuels policy that we include in all contracts.”
HECO has signed what it calls a “very short” (two years) contract to supply its Campbell plant with fuel made from recovered animal waste on the Mainland. To get its new Campbell plant permitted, HECO had to promise to use renewable fuel.
For the Maalaea test, it contracted with Sime Darby to supply a million gallons of palm oil.