Hawaii Sun Grant News

sugarcane field
Oceanside sugarcane field
Jatropha curcas
Jatropha curcas field
Dairy waste runoff management energy system
Dairy waste runoff management energy system


Sun Grant-related research at the University of Hawaii includes three focal areas: bench-scale thermal gasification studies, development of new feedstock from oil crops, and development of a cyanobacterial system for ethanol production.

Within the broad thermal gasification arena, research is focusing on alkali removal from biomass-derived gas using solid sorbents, tracking fuel-bound nitrogen, tracking inorganic constituents in biomass, and catalytic reforming of tars and oils.

The second area is evaluating non-traditional oil crops, including Jatropha curcas and Pongamia pinnata, as potential feedstocks for biodiesel and charcoal production. These trees were chosen for their low resource input requirements and their ability to thrive on poor soil. Their cultivation on marginal lands will promote land reclamation and inhibit soil erosion, while not competing with food crops for agricultural land. Partners in these efforts include the University of Hawaii's College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR), the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, Pacific Biodiesel, Oils of Aloha, and Volcano Island Honey Company.

Finally, while most of the ethanol production in the U.S. is produced via fermentation of starch crops, a study at CTAHR's Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering is investigating a cyanobacteria-based system to produce ethanol. The environmental benefit of this system is the conversion of CO2, a greenhouse gas, into bioethanol, a renewable energy source.

Projects of Interest

Wastewater Management

In the News:

Department of Energy Announces $24 Million for Algal Biofuels Research

June 28, 2010

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced today the investment of up to $24 million for three research groups to tackle key hurdles in the commercialization of algae-based biofuels. The selections will support the development of a clean, sustainable transportation sector—a goal of the Department's continued effort to spur the creation of the domestic bio-industry while creating jobs. Developing cost-effective renewable transportation fuels is a key component of the Administration's strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the nation toward energy independence.

"Partnerships such as these focus the creative powers of the public, private, and academic sectors on key challenges facing the development of renewable energy for transportation," said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi. "The United States must find effective ways to hasten the development of technologies for advanced biofuels made from algae and other renewable resources to reduce our need for foreign sources of oil." Zoi made the announcement while speaking today at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) 2010 World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing.

The consortia consist of partners from academia, national laboratories, and private industries that are based across the country, broadening the geographic range and technical expertise of DOE partners in the area of algal biofuels. Projects are expected to continue for a period of three years. Together, they represent a diversified portfolio that will help accelerate algal biofuels development with the objective of significantly increasing production of affordable, high-quality algal biofuels that are environmentally and economically sustainable.

Cellana, LLC Consortium (Kailua-Kona, Hawaii): Led by Cellana, LLC, this consortium will examine large-scale production of fuels and feed from microalgae grown in seawater. Tasks include integrating new algal harvesting technologies with pilot-scale cultivation test beds, and developing marine microalgae as animal feed for the aquaculture industry. (DOE funding: up to $9 million)

Khosla Ventures, Hawaiian Electric to collaborate

By Susanne Retka Schill Web exclusive posted Dec. 29, 2008, at 4:06 p.m. CST

Khosla Ventures and Hawaiian Electric Co. have agreed to collaborate on evaluation and early deployment of green-energy technologies. The companies will work with entrepreneurs and start-up companies developing clean technology with the goal of accelerating the commercialization of promising new products and services.

Founded in 2004 by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, a cofounder of Sun Microsystems, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Khosla Ventures supports breakthrough scientific work in clean technology areas and offers venture assistance, strategic advice and capital to entrepreneurs.

“In its position, Khosla Ventures is exposed to innovative new companies and green technologies,” said Karl Stahlkopf, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president for energy solutions and chief technology officer. “Through this first-of-its kind agreement, Hawaiian Electric will be able to evaluate and test promising technologies on our systems, with the hope that contributing to their development will allow even greater opportunities for us to use them in Hawaii.”

Under a memorandum of understanding formally signed recently, Hawaiian Electric and Khosla Ventures shall regularly share information regarding new products or services in the area of clean technology development. “The evaluations and assessments provided by Hawaiian Electric will be invaluable in helping to insure clean energy technologies developed by the start-up companies are ready to meet the demands of commercial deployment and focused on the most promising target markets,” said Vinod Khosla, Khosla Ventures’ founder.
 Hawaiian Electric is looking to implement a range of renewable technologies for electrical generation. In addition to wind and solar, Hawaiian Electric plans to convert its existing oil-fired generation over to biofuel, explained Peter Rosegg, corporate communications director for Hawaiian Electric. A100 megawatt combustion turbine is currently under construction on Oahu Island that will use biodiesel. The island of Maui is heavily dependent on petroleum diesel for up to 80 percent of its electric generation, he added. “We believe based on experience and testing that can be replace virtually barrel for barrel with biofuel. In 2009 we will commence testing generating units that use low sulfur fuel oil to see how strong a blend of biofuel can be added to keep those units running at top efficiency.”

Hawaiian Electric is partnering in an algae production project with Maui landowner Alexander & Baldwin Inc. and start-up HR BioPetroleum Inc. The plan is to create a commercial-scale algae facility adjacent to the Ma’alaea Power Plant. Hawaiian Electric is also a partner in the proposed BlueEarth Biofuels LLC 40 MMgy biodiesel processing plant on Maui, which is expected to be operational in early 2010. The goal is to use locally grown oil feedstocks such as algae, jatropha or palm.

Maui Island gets biomass electricity generated as a coproduct from the last sugar plantation in the state, and Hawaii Island, also known as the Big Island, has several biomass projects in the works.

Hawaiian Electric’s focus on renewable power generation fits into an initiative launched in early December to establish an electric-car network in the state. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle signed a memorandum of understanding with Better Place Hawaii, to collaborate on the infrastructure and energy sources to power Better Place’s network of public charging spots and battery swapping stations with renewable energy. “The Hawaiian Electric companies believe that the Better Place model coming to Hawaii will not only reduce fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by substituting electric vehicles for internal combustion engine vehicles,” Rosegg said, “but can help us provide a larger off-peak market for all kinds of renewables.”