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Founders of biodiesel firm unveil their own green new deal: Hemp

Earth Day blessing fetes Maui’s first state-licensed industrial hemp farm

Pacific Biodiesel Technologies co-founder Kelly King, Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine Managing Editor Lehia Apana and Jennifer Polito, founder and creative director of Jenerate PR, plant some seedlings (that are not hemp) Monday morning during the blessing of the first state Department of Agriculture-licensed industrial hemp farm on Maui. The farm is organized under Imua Energy LLC, the personal entity of King and her husband, Pacific Biodiesel co-founder and President Bob King. Hemp production is still pending while the Kings complete property upgrades. The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photos

WAIKAPU — As pioneers in the biodiesel industry on Maui, Bob and Kelly King are used to navigating uncharted territory.

Now the founders of Pacific Biodiesel are taking on a new venture under their personal entity, Imua Energy LLC, running Maui’s first state-licensed industrial hemp farm. It aims to produce hemp extract, including CBD, to add to cosmetic products such as moisturizing oils. It will also be the first industrial hemp farm in the U.S. powered by 100 percent biodiesel, according to the company.

“We are doing things to prove what can be done,” said Kelly King, who’s also chairwoman of the Maui County Council.

The Kings unveiled the new 10-acre farm in Central Maui on Monday, holding a blessing and placing plants in the ground — though not hemp, which the company can’t plant in the presence of the public. It’s one of the many requirements and rules that come with growing hemp, a variety of Cannabis sativa L., the same species as marijuana.

But unlike marijuana, industrial hemp does not have much THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects.

Pacific Biodiesel co-founders Kelly King (left) and Bob King (right), along with marketing director Joy Galatro (center), explain what will be done with the hemp extract that they will produce from the industrial hemp farm in Waikapu.

Part of taking on the challenging project is to “open people’s minds,” Kelly King said after the blessing Monday, which was Earth Day.

Because of the type of crop and regulations that govern it, the company did not want disclose the exact site, although officials say it is within the 115-acre site where its other crops are located.

“This is not marijuana. It’s industrial hemp,” Bob King told a group of supporters, company members and media at the blessing Monday morning.

“This allows us to take an extract from hemp,” he added.

The extract will contain “the full spectrum” of industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids, including CBD.

Chanting and hula were performed during the blessing of Imua Energy’s 10-acre industrial hemp farm Monday. Shown (from left) are Kimokeo Kapahulehua of the Kimokeo Foundation and Ethan Villanueva, a son of one of Pacific Biodiesel’s employees on Maui.

Imua Energy has purchased a “supercritical” carbon dioxide extractor to allow for production of pure, clean, quality extract with no further heating or distillation required, according to a news release.

The hemp extract will be blended per Federal Drug Administration requirements to not exceed 0.3 percent THC. It will be incorporated into Kuleana Beauty products, along with Pacific Biodiesel’s locally grown macadamia and sunflower oils, the news release said.

Kuleana is part of Maiden Hawaii Naturals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Biodiesel.

The extract will also be marketed to cosmetic manufacturers.

“We hope this will be a key piece for us to putting it all together,” Bob King said of the hemp project and his previous ventures, including the popular sunflowers.

The hemp, which yet has to be planted since fencing and other property upgrades are needed, will be first grown in a greenhouse then later placed into the fields, Bob King said.

He expects it will be 90 days from planting to harvest.

Because the farm location is windy, the plants will have a short time in the field.

Asked how the crops will grow or what their other challenges will be, Bob King said: “We are going to find out.”

He said other places in the U.S. and abroad are also growing industrial hemp for its extract.

There are around a dozen or so industrial hemp permits in Hawaii from the state Department of Agriculture, he said, although initially they were for fiber and other items, not extract, which “is a pretty hot commodity” now.

Bob King said he’s looking to also grow hemp for building materials and grain in the future.

Earlier this year, Imua Energy assumed all Maui farming operations from Pacific Biodiesel Technologies.

Pacific Biodiesel was founded on Maui in 1995 and is the nation’s longest operating and most experienced biodiesel producer, the company said. It established the first retail biodiesel pump in America.

Pacific Biodiesel has nearly 100 employees statewide and is the only commercial producer of liquid biofuels in Hawaii.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.