Monday, February 19, 2007

 

Will biodiesel be the solution to Maui's energy needs?

Photo: Charles Pfeil

The front page article on the February 18th Sunday Maui News couldn't be missed because of the giant headline which read, "$61 million project a start to ending use of petroleum". With our ridiculously high gas prices on Maui, who wouldn't be reading this announcement?! This new project scheduled to begin in 2009, a collaboration between Hawaiian Electric Co. and BlueEarth Biofuels LLC, has impressive intentions: "While MECO President Ed Reinhardt said the goal is to get all of the company's Maalaea generators off petroleum, Mayor Charmaine Tavares noted her call at her inauguration to diversify the county's economy."

The BlueEarth plan is to burn imported palm oil, but there are other potential crops which could be used for fuel: jatropha trees, kukui, algae, flax, castor beans, jojoba, soybeans, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, and coconut. Pacific Biodiesel has been refining alternative fuel on Maui for many years, and in another article in the Maui News, Kelly King, the marketing director of Pacific Biodiesel, questions "the wisdom of using palm oil as an industrial fuel." The downside to using palm oil is that tropical rain forests are being cut down for oil plantations. And will the growers on plantations in tropical parts of Africa, Asia, South America, and Malaysia practice sustainable palm production? Pacific Biodiesel is also exploring expansion with a possible "5-million-gallon plant on the Big Island, along with expansion of their Maui and Oahu refineries.

A recent front-page article in the Maui Time Weekly titled "Potential Energy" by reporter Rob Parsons is also an excellent read about what's going on to make Maui more fuel efficient. The first sentence of this article is an eyebrow raiser, "Hawai'i holds the dubious distinction of being the most petroleum-dependent state in the U.S." The article mentions other possible options besides biofuel. These include "wind, hydro and micro-hydro, wave power, solar photo-voltaic, and of course, an overall reduction in our energy consumption."

I read that George Clooney drives around in Europe in an electric car. We should have these electric cars on Maui too! The Maranello 4 manufactured in Italy is a good city runabout car and perfect for Maui since we can't drive too fast here anyway. If these cars were available, we won't have to wait for these other alternatives to come online.

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