Sunflowers could become Maui’s new biofuel

Pacific Biodiesel to create demo project on 115-acre plot

Biofuel crops, including sunflowers, will be grown on 115 acres in Maui’s central valley as part of a demonstration project this month, according to an announcement from Pacific Biodiesel.

The announcement of a Hawaiian blessing for the project leaves out some details, like its exact location, its market, its potential for job development and where the crop would be processed into biofuel.

Pacific Biodiesel spokeswoman Kim Sloan said Tuesday that details would be made public during a private blessing event Friday.

The announcement says the project would showcase “the company’s collaborative, community-based ‘agriculture and energy’ production model designed to fight climate change and help Hawaii achieve a clean, sustainable energy future.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Alexander & Baldwin spokesman Darren Pai said A&B is not involved in the project. Officials with the parent company of Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which shut down after more than 140 years in December, have mentioned sunflowers as an experimental crop for the old sugar cane land.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard are expected to participate in the blessing, along with project stakeholders, farmers, legislators and community supporters.

Pacific Biodiesel was founded on Maui in 1995 in response to environmental and health concerns about used cooking oil dumped at the Central Maui Landfill. Bob King owned King Diesel, which maintained the landfill’s generators. He proposed converting the restaurants’ waste into biodiesel to fuel the generators, according to the company’s website.

That was the launching point for building the first commercially viable small-scale biodiesel plant in the U.S.

Now, the company is the nation’s longest-operating biodiesel producer. It has nearly 80 employees statewide and is the only commercial biofuel producer in the state.

The company’s Big Island refinery uses state-of-the-art distillation technology to produce as much as 5.5 million gallons annually.

Early this month, Pai said A&B’s goal is to get as much of its former 36,000 acres of sugar lands as possible changed over to diversified agriculture operations. Options included biofuel crops, ranching, food crops and an agricultural park.

His comment was in response to questions about House Bill 1230, which would authorize the state to issue special purpose bonds of as much as $13 million to finance West Maui-based MauiGrown Coffee’s expansion to former sugar lands in the vicinity of Pulehu and Omaopio roads.

Last week, the House Agriculture Committee recommended second-reading passage of the bill drafted by West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey. The panel amended the bill’s effective date from this year until July 31, 2150, “to encourage further discussion.”

The measure also was referred to the House Finance Committee, but the money committee had not scheduled a hearing for the bill as of Tuesday afternoon.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.


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