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Powering Up: Energy in Hawaii

A Special Report from the State of Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT)

(page 4 of 9)

Maui-based Kuehnle AgroSystems Inc., helmed by CEO Heidi Kuehnle and Mark Ritchie, chief business development officer, is focusing on biofuel development.

Green Companies on the Cutting Edge

Innovative clean energy technologies in Hawai‘i are attracting RD&D worldwide

Local clean tech start up Kuehnle Agrosystems Inc. is hoping to strike it green by turning ordinary pond scum and other forms of algae into jet fuel.

The Mānoa-based company partnered with a major defense contractor, General Atomics, to cultivate locally sourced, oil-rich algae species. Kuehnle Agrosystems provided the algae feedstock that General Atomics grew at large scale for conversion to biofuel.

“Hawai‘i’s ideal weather and geographical conditions and an abundance of federal research and development funding make it attractive for developing biofuels,” said Mark Ritchie, Kuehnle’s Chief Business Development Officer.

Kuehnle is just one of scores of innovative companies that are taking part in Hawai‘i’s green boom. From wind and solar to ocean thermal and wave technologies, to advanced smart grid and battery storage projects, Hawai‘i is quickly making a name for itself as a testbed for leading edge clean tech research and development.

Driven by one of the most ambitious clean energy policies in the world and bolstered by tax credits and federal stimulus funding, Hawai‘i is the focus of investors and government partners from Japan, China, Korea and the U.S. Mainland.

“Hawai‘i is deeply committed to a clean energy economy,” said Lt. Governor Brian Schatz. “Supportive public policy, alignment of clean energy goals between the state, the Department of Defense and our community are all contributing to making Hawai‘i the testbed of the Asia-Pacific region for clean energy research, development and demonstration.”

KAS is working to develop jet fuel from oil-rich forms of algae grown in the islands.

Hawai‘i’s policies are attracting millions of dollars in research and development, and one of the biggest RD&D projects in the isles is the Japan-U.S. Grid Project, a $37 million partnership between the state, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), Hitachi Ltd., Hawaiian Electric Co., Mizuho Corporate Bank and the University of Hawai‘i.

The project, located in Kihei, Maui, will test advanced smart grid and smart meter technologies, which are designed in part to better manage energy use, beef up grid reliability and allow local utilities to bring on more renewable energy.

About 200 households are being recruited by the NEDO venture, which will include an electric vehicle component that will provide valuable data on how the batteries in EVs can be integrated into electric grid management.

The $14 million Maui Smart Grid Project is recruiting another 200 volunteers from the South Maui community to test smart meters, battery storage technologies and other leading edge, in-home technologies.

A joint venture between Maui Electric Co. and the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, the Maui Smart Grid Project will demonstrate and evaluate new technologies that will help residents better manage and reduce energy consumption during peak demand periods and will help MECO operate the electricity grid more efficiently.

Hawai‘i energy officials are finalizing the details of a similar partnership with the Korea Smart Grid Institute to test advanced smart grid technologies on O‘ahu. The Hawai‘i-South Korea project will attempt to integrate hotels and an electric vehicles rental program into the smart grid framework.

Hawai‘i’s private sector is also playing a major role in developing new clean tech products. Since its launch in 1996, Pacific Biodiesel has become a global leader in the biodiesel industry.

The Kahului-based company initially got its start to help avert a serious health hazard facing Maui County whose landfills were being over loaded with dangerous levels of used cooking oils.

Hawaii BioEnergy is developing biofuels on Kaua’i from such sources as eucalyptus, sorghum and algae.

Photo courtesy of Hawaii BioEnergy LLC

The Maui plant became the first commercially viable biodiesel plants in the U.S. when it started to covert the used cooking oil and restaurant waste into fuel for diesel engines. Since then, the company has built 12 biodiesel plants throughout the U.S. Mainland and Japan.

Last month, Pacific Biodiesel opened its new $12 million Big Island plant, which will eventually employ 20 people and will produce as much as 5.5 million gallons of biodiesel each year, or enough to displace hundreds of tons of waste oil that would otherwise end up in the state’s crowded landfills.

Another biofuels company, Hawaii BioEnergy LLC, is conducting research on Kaua‘i on how to develop jet fuel from Hawai‘i’s abundant forms of feedstock such as eucalyptus, sorghum and even algae.

The company—whose investors include Kamehameha Schools, Grove Farm Co. Inc., Maui Land and Pineapple and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Vinod Khosla—also has signed a contract with HECO to supply 10 million gallons a year of locally produced biofuels.

“This holds a lot of potential for Hawai‘i,” said Joel Matsunaga, Hawaii BioEnergy’s chief operating officer. “It’s leading edge technology that’s being developed in Hawai‘i that we can all be proud of.”

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