Funding could define new future in energy for HC&S – The Maui News

The last sugar mill in Hawaii
Puunene Maui
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PUUNENE – Within five years, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. may be out of the sugar business and use its 37,000 acres on Maui to grow much-desired biofuels, company, state and federal officials, announced Wednesday afternoon.

The announcement came with the personal endorsement of senior Hawaii U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who made a pledge to sugar workers who gathered for the event at HC&S headquarters in Puunene.

"In my name, I promise HC&S will not go under like the 16 other sugar cane operations," Inouye said. "If I am wrong, I will be out of a job."

The U.S. Department of Energy, through the University of Hawaii, and the Navy, through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will provide at least $4 million annually toward research 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.

It would be a dramatic transformation, officials 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 company’s aging sugar mill.