by Tania Harmon
Photo Credit: Pacific Biodiesel
Earlier this year I recall seeing a picture of State Representative Kaniela Ing posing in a newly planted field come across my Facebook feed. The post mentioned hemp and sunflowers as a possible agricultural alternative for renewable energy. I thought to myself, hey that would be cool if they could make it work on a large scale. I moved on to the next post without giving it much more thought.
“We just planted the first regenerative crops, sunflowers (with hemp coming soon), on old Maui sugarcane land! The end of the sugar era was met with a lot of fear, but Kelly King and Pacific Biodiesel saw an opportunity for positive change and unity. Uncle Alika Atay, Elle Cochran, and I are proud to share this vision of sustainable, natural agriculture, and a 100% renewable future for Hawai’i. #forMauisFuture” (Photo Credit : Kaniela Ing’s Facebook Page)
That is until 2 months later when my Instagram feed turned bright yellow with images of anybody and everybody galloping through gorgeous fields of sunflowers. As the realization that the mountain scape in the background was the Wailuku hillside, it all came together. And for the first time I actually considered, perhaps this could be our future in Maui. Visions of yellow fields blanketing the Maui landscape as I peer out an airplane window upon landing came to mind – and it made me smile.
The endless, majestic green waves of sugarcane that once covered the island had started to disappear last year. With each return flight the sight of the expansive green that had become symbolic of a welcome home hug had slowly started to brown. And the wider the brown fields grew, the heavier my heart became. There is no doubt that the end of the sugarcane era was inevitable, but the uncertainty of what would replace the green blanket had been weighing heavy on many minds on this island. Perhaps sunflowers, synonymous with happy feelings of hope and renewal, are the perfect symbol for the next generation of crops on Maui. For a few weeks in April, Maui residents and tourists became euphoric with the sight of the sunflower field. So enamored at the sight in fact, the county had to post ‘No Parking’ signs along the sides of the road. Sightseers were so distracted by the beauty they seemed to forget the fact that the parcel sits on the corner of two busy highways.
Hawaii’s Largest Biofuel Crop Project
It turns out that Pacific Biodiesel had planted just 14 acres, a small portion of the 115-acre sight reserved for this new project. The crop was perfectly timed to bloom in time for an Earth Day community celebration and the plan was PR gold. It’s all anyone talked about for weeks, but as it turns out, the date was actually selected to commemorate the one year anniversary of Pacific Biodiesel received the incredible honor of being named ‘The World’s First Biodiesel Producer Certified by the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance for Sustainable Production and Distribution Practices’. With a public commitment to research and utilize alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides, to use non-GMO crops, local compost to replace fertilizer and crop rotation to reduce pests Pacific Biodiesel has quickly become a community favorite company.
Most people on Maui know Pacific Biodiesel is headquartered in Kahului and converts used cooking oil from restaurants into biodiesel which powers boats and cars in Maui. Some may even know the company was one of the first commercial biodiesel plants in the US and actually had the first retail biodiesel pump anywhere in the US. What people might be surprised to learn is that according to the company’s press release, the bulk of Pacific Biodiesel’s fuel is currently used for utility power generation – all while diverting 270 tons of trap grease from the Maui landfill each month. I had no idea!
Hawaii’s Green Energy Goals
The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, a partnership created in 2008 between the State of Hawaii and the US Department of Energy, set out to chart a path to energy independence in the Aloha state by 2045. In 2015, Hawaii generated more than 23% of our energy from renewable resources. With alternative options for the grid including solar and wind, biodiesel may be able to move into a ‘back up’ position (i.e. to be used to stabilize the grid when wind and solar outputs drop off). Pacific Biodiesel foresees the most valuable use of biodiesel in the future will be in heavy-duty transportation. And because biodiesel can be used in any diesel engine or turbine, the impact it can have on Maui as we aim for energy independence and less reliance on importing our food is enormous.
I think what excites me the most about this initiative is the company’s ‘Zero Waste Agriculture and Energy Model’. The crops can be used not only for fuel, but for food, fertilizer and as a chemical-free environment for honey bees to thrive and pollinate (vital to our local farms and flora). Additionally the company’s expansion plan to build new facilities on neighbor islands is forward thinking, reducing inter-island shipping, as well as expanding jobs throughout the state – better for our land, better for our ocean, better for our community.
Photo Credit: Pacific Biodiesel Facebook Page
The next crop is expected to bloom later this month. I look forward to seeing my social media feeds light up with bright beautiful yellow sunflowers.
For more information and to keep up-to-date with the company’s progress visit http://www.biodiesel.com/
Biodiesel is available at retail pumps on Oahu, the Big Island and on Maui at:
Pacific Biodiesel Pump located at 40 Hobron Ave. in Kahului and
Minit Stop Lahaina – Ohana Fuels located at 10 Kupuohi St. in Lahaina.