Blue Earth Biodiesel Plant

From Haleakala Times
by Karen Chun

One of the largest biodiesel plants in the U.S. is proposed for Maui. BlueEarth Biofuels will partner with Hawaiian Electric Company to build a 120 million-gallon-per-year plant in three stages. First stage is 40 million gallons earmarked for the Maui Electric Company electrical generators.  Any excess biodiesel will go to other HECO facilities.

The plant will enable MECO to switch from diesel to cleaner-burning biodiesel. MECO already uses biodiesel from Pacific Biodiesel for startups to avoid expensive pollution fines. Biodiesel from sustainably grown crops does not contribute to net CO2 releases nor global warming and it burns 60 percent more cleanly than regular diesel.

A bill to allow the company to borrow $59 million through a state-backed special purpose revenue bond is before the Legislature.

Robert Wellington, BlueEarth co-managing partner, sees the plant as a good match for Maui. The biodiesel process is simple and efficient, requiring less fuel input than ethanol.

Wellington’s partner, Landis Maez, has already relocated to Hawai‘i  and both see this project as a win for the environment and for energy self-sufficiency.

The BlueEarth facility will initially import canola, soy or palm oil from  North America, South America and the Pacific Rim. Wellington says, “We’re hoping that within five years, half the feedstock will be grown on Maui.”
But controversy looms.

Kelly King of Pacific Biodiesel says growing enough feedstock on Maui  is “something which is impossible to achieve.” Her company currently produces about one million gallons of biodiesel on Maui – less than one percent of the proposed BlueEarth plant.

“Statewide the Governor’s Hawai‘i  Biofuels Summit identified 139,400 acres available for biofuels throughout the state, exclusive on non-sugar agricultural lands,” said Wellington.

But supplying just the initial 40 million gallons for the first phase would take 216,000 acres of jatropha or 178,000 acres of kukui – more biofuel land than Hawai‘i  has.  At full capacity the plant would require an astounding 650,000 acres of jatropha feedstock – over four times the amount of biofuel land available in the State.   In comparison HC&S has only 37,000 acres under sugarcane cultivation on Maui.

The most productive oil crop, palm oil, can produce 581 gallons of  oil per acre in good soil with abundant water. Crops such as jatropha (185 gals/acre) and kukui (225 gals/acre) are more suited to Maui’s arid conditions.  Jatropha can be grown on marginal land  and will produce within two or three years. The facility will continue to import feedstock from outside Hawai‘i even if all identified Hawai‘i  land is put into biofuel crops.

An interview with HC&S Director, Energy Development and Planning, Lee Jakeway, revealed that HC&S is currently more focused on their own ethanol production and doesn’t have any present plans to produce oil for the BlueEarth plant. Wellington hopes that will change when the plant is a reality. Jakeway saw several challenges to providing BlueEarth’s vegetable oil requirement locally including water supply, water infrastructure and inadequate land area to produce in the quantities BlueEarth requires.

When asked if he felt local growers could compete on price with foreign palm oil Jakeway indicated that he hadn’t run the numbers but felt it would be “somewhat of a stretch” to think Maui-grown feedstock could be competitive with foreign sources with no import duties applied, even with the proposed subsidized feedstock processing plant.
Wellington stated that local feedstock may not have to compete on price.  “Hawaiian Electric Company’s board recently passed a policy to give preference to locally grown renewable energy feedstocks,” Wellington suggested that perhaps the project-funded  Biofuels Public Trust could provide price supports in addition to oil extraction facilities for local feedstock producers.

Labor, land and water costs will make local bio-oil more expensive than imported unless import duties are enacted. There is no guarantee that the Public Trust fund will have enough money to enable local growers to compete.

If a portion of the feedstock were grown on Maui, it would require a processing plant be built and a delay of from two-ten years while the initial crop grows to seed-bearing age. HECO has established a trust fund to help build a local oil processing facility. Lance Holter, Conservation Chair of the Hawai‘i  Sierra Club, feels that supplying the plant with locally grown feedstock is a problem. “Do we  we want biofuels to become a monopoly directed by one company growing fuel that would take up all of Hawaii’s ag lands to provide fuel to this one electric plant?”
Holter goes on to say that palm oil is in such worldwide demand that rain forests are being razed for oil palm plantations. Thus, the apparently eco-friendly facility could be responsible for a net increase in worldwide CO2 and destruction of the environment.

BlueEarth’s Wellington responds that all of their suppliers certify that the palm oil comes from sustainable sources and thus their use of palm oil will not contribute to rain forest destruction or increased CO2.

Holter’s position is, “Palm oil demand is so high, this simply means that someone who would have bought from these suppliers will now be getting their supply from the slash and burn plantations. Any increase in demand increases the acreage that is being destroyed.”

Kelly King added that the the non-profit Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance rejected labeling some imported palm oil as ‘Sustainably Grown Palm Oil’ in part for this reason.  According to her,  “At the quantities BlueEarth is proposing, it is certain to have an extremely negative impact.”

According to Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, “If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse emissions, but that depends very much on the types of plants and how they’re grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 percent reduction compared to fossil fuels — or a 20 percent increase.”
Since BlueEarth can use any vegetable oil, they feel that focusing on palm oil’s problems is misleading. “Virtually any vegetable oil product can be used and we can mix different feedstocks.” BlueEarth is considering soybean, canola, peanut, cottonseed, and sunflower oil from the Americas and various palm and non-palm tropical oils from the Pacific Rim and Central and South America.

Since a majority, if not all, of the feedstock for the Maui plant will be imported, we asked about potential increase in Kahului Harbor traffic. Wellington replied that the imported vegetable oil just about equals the imported diesel which it will replace. He expects one ship per month to export biodiesel to other islands once the third stage is built in about 2011. A spokesperson for Save Kahului Harbor indicated that this was not a concern for them.

Rob Parsons, former Maui Environmental Coordinator, questioned the potential 20 million gallons of glycerin waste product per year. “It could end up in our land fill. Increased biodiesel production has led to a glut of glycerin on the market.”
“The glycerin could be used to power the biodiesel plant process using a glycerin powered cogeneration system to provide the required power and steam, converted via a newly developed technology to methanol for the biodiesel refining process, or even burned as cheap, low-grade fuel in Kahului Power Plant,” Wellington said.
“With all of this value in the waste stream glycerin, none of it will end up in the Maui landfill.”

Critics want to see agreements in place to build the the glycerin infrastructure before they’ll accept assurances it won’t end up in landfill. “‘Could be used’ doesn’t mean ‘will be used’”, said Holter, “That’s all pie in the sky without agreements and timetables.” According to Parsons, “This facility is way out of scale with local sustainability for our island. We shouldn’t rush into such an endeavor without a complete understanding of its ramifications. Small, methodical steps make more sense.”

Bill Akiona’s Email to State Senate About HECO/BlueEarth Biofuels State Subsidy Plan

‘Ano’ai kakou:

Hawaiian Electric Industries is proposing a Maui Biofuel Refinery that is truly unsustainable; and will force Hawaii to become dependent upon importing „Palm Oil.‰ What‚s more, this BlueEarth project will readily negate the opportunity for Hawaii‚s locals and rural communities to participate in the development of a much more sustainable and worthy renewable energy/biofuel program for Hawaii. (See Link Below)


MECO announced using 72 million gallons of petroleum diesel in 2005; they are expected to use a 15% blend of biodiesel by 2015, which comes to only 10.8 million gallons of pure biodiesel (B100) stock ˆ to be used in making a B15 blend to meet the 2015 biofuel requirements. Then why is it that they need to import 120 million gallons of Palm Oil? That‚s over 110 percent more B100 stock than what they really need! Could it be that they are trying to control Hawaii‚s new and lucrative emerging biofuel industry-economy-marketplace?

Palm oil is the primary plantation crop responsible for rainforest destruction throughout the world. It is presently destroying wildlife habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia; and now threatening the Sumatran tiger, Asian elephant, Boneo orangutans and Sumatran rhinoceros into extinction. Moreover, these affected countries‚ poor indigenous people are being forced from their ancestral forest lands and displaced, having to live in shanty towns and city slums. (See Link Below: One of many articles of environmental injustice, concerning palm oil.)

The yearly purchases of 120 million gallons of palm oil will insight the destruction of more than160,000 acres of rainforest habitat.  In Hawaii, there is only a small fraction of rainforest type lands available for palm oil monoculture. A much more sustainable oil tree crop would be Jatropha curcas, in which 350,000 acres of land will be needed to satisfy BlueEarth‚s throughput of 120,000,000 gallons of feedstock. Coconut and Kukui tree monoculture is costly and both can be difficult to harvest and process efficiently.

However, in-state production of biofuel crops will be stymied by the BlueEarth business model. Growers will be held to a low „take it or leave it‰ price control, dictated by this over-scaled processing refinery.

Therefore, instead of creating hundreds of small locally-owned enterprises and thousands of jobs in our State‚s rural communities ˆ fostering an economic multiplier within each ˆ we will now be held to only 40 to 50 jobs at the most, offered by an offshore company, importing offshore feedstock. Through BlueEarth‚s controlling of the production and marketing of Hawaii‚s biofuel industry; they will obviously spend their revenues elsewhere and re-invest abroad ˆ exploiting poor indigenous people and their natural resources.

As a grower of tree bearing oilseed (TBO) crops, we will be organizing into a USDA growers‚ co-operative: recruiting growers throughout the islands‚ rural communities and Hawaiian homestead regions. Our goal is to consolidate our efforts and production; to economically produce biodiesel feedstock, on marginal lands, through the planting of Jatropha curcas ˆ a hardy, fast growing, high yielding oilseed tree crop. We will also properly develop our production into a vertically integrated system, thereby processing the oilseeds, within several rural outlays, and utilizing the by- and co-products to be value-added through local community-based economic development programs. (See Link:

Sustainability and innovation is our theme and the objectives in which to meet our goals. To allow a large offshore corporation model, to control this industry, will mean the misappropriation of Hawaii‚s biofuel industry‚s sustainability; with the loss of our locally innovative production programs and thousands of rural community jobs… Even moreover, the potential extinction of several high-profile, critically endangered species will also be blamed on Hawaii, which will definitely affect our tourism industry.

Rob Parson’s Letter on Biodiesel

There’s a difference between renewable and sustainable.

Before we rejoice at the announcement of Maui Electric’s proposed $61 million biodiesel refinery, many tough questions must be asked.The project would initially import palm oil to produce 40 million gallons of biofuel by 2009 and 120 million gallons by 2011. But, palm oil production in Maylasia, Borneo, Indonesia, Thailand and elsewhere has been one of the great ecological disasters of our time.

More than 60 million acres of biodiverse rainforest has been slashed and burned to make way for palm oil plantations, endangering orangutans, the Asian elephant, Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros and dozens of other creatures.

The huge scale of the proposal could actually harm rather than encourage local biofuel crop production, which could never compete with oil prices purchased from countries with cheap labor.

Is the goal to refine enough biodiesel to supply HECO’s proposed 110 megawatt generation facility on Oahu? Why was BlueEarth Biodiesel selected, with no track record in Hawaii if anywhere? Shouldn’t fuel purchases require proper procurement process and Public Utility Commission approval?

We should be very cautious of confusing renewable energy sources with sustainable production. Maui would do much better to follow a path of small-scale efforts for local energy generation and conservation and to use liquid fuels for transportation needs, not fueling electrical plants. While limited local biofuel crop production may be beneficial, use of ag lands to offset food imports is a more vital need.

Rob Parsons

Lance Holter’s Viewpoint on Proposed Biodiesel Plant

News recently of a proposed $61 million Bio Diesel refinery on Maui rippled thru the Islands. Blue earth Biofuels is seeking $59 million from the Hawaii state legislature by way of special purpose revenue bonds to build the project. Blue earth plans to produce bio diesel from imported Palm Oil and will import at least 40 million gallons per year. Importing oil? How does this create a sustainable local renewable energy economy? I thought we were trying to get away from this paradigm? Gee whiz Mr. Wizard! Uhhh?

I did some research into palm Oil and was awestruck by the devastation Palm Oil plantations are causing to the worlds great tropical rain forests. Palm oil production is driving deforestation and cultural destruction in Africa, the Amazon, Central America, Indonesia, New Guinea, Malaysia, Borneo, SE Asia, and Islands in other Asia Pacific regions. 60 million acres is planned for Palm Oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia alone because Palm oil is in such demand.

The main culprit of deforestation is China’s burgeoning economy consuming huge tracts of tropical forest. In fact Palm Oil plantations using slash, burn, wetland draining methods are the third largest CO2 producer in the world contributing 8% of all global CO2 emissions. In April 2006, China purchased 28.2 million cubic feet of Indonesian old growth hardwoods to build sports facilities for the 2008 Olympic summer games at cost of one billion dollars. Huge swaths of tropical forest have been illegally logged by the Indonesian military and sold to China. After the land is logged it is converted to Palm Oil plantations. Palm oil is used for cooking and consumer products by companies like Proctor and Gamble. In fact Pam oil is now found in one out of three food products, with the price of petroleum rising it’s now become an alternative fuel Palm oil/bio-diesel.

The Borneo rain forest is considered the lungs of SE Asia and since 1996 ½ of the Borneo forest has disappeared for Palm Oil plantations. This ecosystem is home to 7,000 species with a Bio-diversity unlike anything on earth. It is home to elephants, miniature rhinoceros, the sun bear, orangutans, tree dwelling gibbons, deer, incredible bird life, nearly extinct wild forest leopards, cats and botanical specimens both discovered and undiscovered with untold medicinal value.

At one field station in Borneo’s Kayan Mentarang National Park, dozens of new species of trees, mosses and herbs, butterflies, frogs, fresh water prawns, snakes, and entirely new species of mammals were found since 1991. “This field station alone has more frogs and snake species than in all of Europe” said research station director Stephan Wulffraat, a conservation biologist with World Wildlife Fund.

The unsustainable destruction of the worlds tropical rainforests will prove disastrous to valuable ecosystems required by plant communities, animals and people who depend upon the viability and economic benefits of intact watersheds, fisheries and sustainable resource harvesting. To put it bluntly, this idea that somehow sustainable Palm Oil can be produced is an erroneous one. All of the worlds Palm oil can or could be consumed by China. If you somehow find and take away the small amount of “sustainable oil” the unsustainably produced oil will just fill the void and cancel out the benefits.

The solution, Why does Maui need an unknown mainland company (Blue Earth) and no track record, with undisclosed or secret financial backers, subsidized by the State to produce quantities of Bio Diesel which are unsustainable thru local production and which will always be dependent upon foreign oil imports? I believe it far better to invest in our local Hawaii Pacific Bio diesel company and with Hawaii farmers who have proven accountability. We should invest this $59 million into putting our own Ag lands into bio fuel oil seed crops. Invest in research and in identifying the best sustainable oil seed crops for local harvest and production. Invest in the local community and keep the wealth for our Island and State by not sending monies off shore perpetuating environmentally destructive palm oil production. For example, 600 workers were lost and unemployed on Oahu when Del Monte closed down. This was a lost opportunity when 600 experienced and trained agriculture workers could have been put to work producing sustainable organically produced agricultural products. Our problem is that there is little or no current ongoing Hawaii based bio fuel research and crop studies underway in the field of Bio fuel seed crop production.

The time has come for Hawaii to control it’s destiny and not be at the mercy of foreign oil imports and mainland corporations who come to Maui/Hawaii with their hands out looking for us to give them the money. Let us invest in ourselves.

For more info;

Lance Holter is the chair of Hawaii Sierra Club Maui Group and lives in Paia.

Rob Parson’s 2nd Article

Read Rob Parsons First Article
Read DuByne’s Response to Parsons’ first article

The Rob Report
Maui Time
April 5, 2007

Back in February, I got an email from David DuByne, a former Maui resident now working on bio-fuel development and organic farming projects in Northern Thailand. He had read my Feb. 15, 2007 article, “Potential Energy” and wrote to tell me he had just finished a book on biofuels. He said the book was written as an ESL (English as a Second Language) text, so that oil and energy jargon can be simplified for the average reader.

Dave recently wrote back, with a lot of valuable information on the rush to implement biofuels for our energy needs. His letter appears on Page 6.

Hawai`i, like many other places worldwide, seems enamored with the idea of ethanol and biodiesel fuel crops helping to wean our dependence on imported fossil fuels. At the same time, drawbacks to the ambitious efforts are surfacing.

Ethanol not only reduces automobile engine performance and gas mileage, but can be damaging to marine or garden equipment engines, since the alcohol component attracts water. Ethanol also requires a large input of water for processing, and produces an odorous organic byproduct, vinesse, at a 12 to one ration for each gallon of ethanol.

Two proposals are afoot to build mega-sized biodiesel refineries to Hawai`i. Maui Electric handpicked two Mainlanders who formed a corporation called BlueEarth biofuels, and hope to construct a facility to produce 40 million gallons per year by 2009, and 120 million gallons by 2011. Last week, Imperium Biofuels of Seattle announced plans for a 100 million gallon capacity refinery on Oahu. Both indicated they would have to import vegetable oil, as there is no current production of oil crops on Hawai`i ag lands.

There is a growing awareness that cheaply produced oil crops worldwide contribute to rainforest destruction, soil erosion, water pollution, and social justice issues. Palm oil produced in Malaysia, Borneo and Indonesia has attracted much of the attention over ecosystem devastation, even while millions more hectares of rainforest are imperiled due to increased interest in palm, as a non-trans-fat oil, and as a biodiesel feedstock.

Soya oil cultivation in South America is equally disastrous, according to a report by the Institute of Scientists In Society. The ISIS report, GM Soya Disaster in Latin America, details the multiple environmental and socio-economic problems associated with large mono-cropping efforts in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. “As long as these countries continue to embrace neoliberal models of development and respond to demand from the globalized economy, the rapid proliferation of soybean will increase, and so will the associated ecological and social impacts.”

Competition for ag lands between food and energy needs will raise food prices for everyone, while reducing our fossil fuel dependency only minimally. Since President Bush’s mention of ethanol in his 2006 State of the Union address, corn prices have risen to four dollars a bushel, prompting street protests in Mexico, where the price of tortillas has doubled. The push to bioenergy may continue to have a large ripple effect across a wide economic spectrum, as well as environmental.

Locally, our public utility monopolies seem to be trying to think outside the box of their petroleum-fueled, centralized power grid old paradigm. But it’s increasingly obvious that the plans for a huge biodiesel refinery are leading us down a dead-end road.

Bills at the state legislature to support $59 million in special revenue bonds to finance the BlueEarth plant sailed through early hearings, but now are facing opposition. Ten statewide environmental groups and at least 50 individuals sent opposing testimony, which had minimal support. But BlueEarth, HECO, and MECO brought in the cavalry, including building trade unions and the Maui Chamber of Commerce. A decision will be made this week, though the proposal would still face due diligence for the bonds, and Public Utility Commission approvals.

Karen Chun, Sierra Club Maui board member and webmaster, has put together an impressive compilation of articles and information on biofuels at Chun also offered these strategies as keys to our energy sustainability:

• Decentralization: Rooftop solar hot water and photovoltaic, personal wind generation.

• Conservation through intelligent building design, transportation choices, infrastructure, town design, and building codes.

• Conservation through fewer disposable products and more efficient energy use design.

While we hurry towards so-called renewable alternatives, we have barely scratched the surface on these approaches. One clear obstacle is the existing roadblock to net-metering decentralized electric generation, due to bureaucratic red tape as well as a limit on the number of participants.

State funding and incentives to biofuel production will be best applied to small, gradual local efforts, not continuing to send our energy and food dollars out of the state. Local bioenergy efforts hold more promise than those rooted in the rocky soil of large corporate global economics.

The Rob Report (From Maui Time)

We have met the enemy, and he is us.

-Walt Kelly’s Pogo

The 1960’s were a time when Cold War politics dictated that Americans live in fear of the Soviets dropping “the big one,” a nuclear bomb. Thousands of families constructed and stocked backyard fallout shelters. Elementary school children drilled “drop and cover” maneuvers beneath their desks.

Fortunately, that bomb never dropped. But, late in the decade there was another explosion of sorts. In 1968, Dr. Paul Ehrlich, a Stanford biologist wrote The Population Bomb, a study of unavoidable consequences of human population growth. Though some have criticized his doomsday predictions of widespread famine and food wars, Ehrlich recently pointed out that the 2.8 billion people we’ve added to the planet since the 3.5 billion already alive in 1968 certainly constitutes an explosion, which continues to degrade the global environment.

I read The Population Bomb a few years later after it published, when I was a senior in high school. It’s one of a half dozen books I’ve read that substantially changed the way I view the world around me. Page by page I read Ehrlich’s work and thought to myself, “Oh my God, we’re screwed.”

Even considering all the recent discussion of renewable energy possibilities for Hawai`i, Maui Electric Company’s (MECO) sudden announcement of plans to construct a $61 million biodiesel refinery was a bit of a bombshell. The proposal, in which MECO teams with BlueEarth Biofuels, LLC, projects a first phase output in 2009 of 40 million gallons of biodiesel fuel, more than half of the 73 million gallons of diesel MECO used in 2005 to run its generators. While the facility would utilize imported palm oil, it aspires to set up a nonprofit public trust to encourage the growth of local fuel crops.

If all goes well, in just a few years we’ll be able to crank up our air-conditioning, set out more strings of holiday lights and heat our Jacuzzis… all guilt-free. But, closer examination of the MECO/BlueEarth proposal raises questions.

Lots of questions.

BlueEarth Maui Biodiesel registered as a Limited Liability Corporation with the Hawai`i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Business Registration Division on Jan. 29, 2007. BlueEarth’s two principle partners, Robert Wellington and Landis Maez, live in Texas and Arizona, respectively. Is there a local connection?

The Maui News recently reported that BlueEarth is building a plant in Mason City, Iowa capable of producing 30 million gallons of biofuel. But the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association website reports that plant is being constructed by Freedom Fuels, with general contracting by NewMech of St. Paul, Minnesota.

How did MECO select BlueEarth, a new company with no track record in Hawai`i and possibly anywhere else? By what process did they deem them worthy of this joint venture that is seeking legislative approval to receive $59 million in special purpose revenue bonds? Isn’t that the largest request of public funds since the proposed Superferry?

Also on Jan. 29, 2007, Raymond Sweeney Jr. of Sweeney Communications in Honolulu registered as a lobbyist for the BlueEarth Biofuels office Frisco, Texas. Senate Bill 1718, authorizing the revenue bonds, has already sailed through the Energy and Environment Committee, and soon will face a hearing with the Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Maui’s Roz Baker.

Henry Curtis of Life of the Land is perhaps the state’s leading renewable energy advocate. In his testimony on SB 1718, Curtis asked, “Who is applying? Why do they need money? What are the environmental, cultural, and social impacts? Or are we giving away money to anyone who wants to invest in an energy project which begins in ‘bio’?”

Life of the Land, advocating for the people and the `aina since 1970, has a stated mission of preservation and protection “through sustainable land use and energy policies, and by promoting open government through research, education, advocacy, and litigation.” They are currently involved in a contested case hearing with Hawai`i Electric Company over that agency’s proposed 110 megawatt generating station at Campbell Industrial Park.

Will the “rush to renewables” allow us to make intelligent, sustainable choices, or are we heading down a feel-good path, while adversely impacting the environment in unseen ways?

In a Dec. 6, 2005 commentary in The Guardian, George Monbiot maintains that palm oil is worse than the fossil fuel it looks to replace. Turns out there’s a global rush to use palm oil-derived diesel, with commodity traders listed in such diverse locales as Russia, South Korea, India and Dubai. But palm oil plantations in Malaysia, Sumatra, Borneo and Thailand have faced harsh environmental scrutiny for destroying millions of hectares of rainforests.

A 2005 report by Friends of the Earth, titled Oil for Apes Scandal, found that 90 percent of orangutan habitat in Indonesia and Maylasia had been destroyed, placing the apes at the edge of extinction. Simply imperiled are the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros, gibbons, tapirs and the Asian elephant.

A U.S. embassy energy news posting from Jakarta, Indonesia states that, “North Sumatra has avoided the haze from fires used to clear the forests for oil palm cultivation, and the oil palm plantations provide a buffer for environmentally protected areas.” A North Sumatran environmental official noted that heating the oil palm nut to extract the crude palm oil is still a dirty business, as is burning the empty husks.

BlueEarth claims they will buy palm oil imported from the Pacific Rim and in South America from suppliers “that practice sustainable palm production.” By 2011, they expect their refinery to produce 120 million gallons yearly, enough to provide fuel for electric generation on Oahu and the Big Island.

But to what extent would this giant venture employ local labor in the construction or in regular operations? Would something of this scope and size encourage grassroots biofuel agricultural production or just benefit traditional large plantation owners and spark squabbles over water allocation?

Moreover, can MECO partner in building this facility, then buy the fuel from itself without going through a competitive bidding process? Would such a request to provide biofuels contain incentives for locally produced, not imported fuels?

Representative Mina Morita of Kauai raised an even more essential question at the Governor’s Biofuel Summit last August. She asked what, with all this talk of using agricultural lands to raise crops to produce electricity, are we doing in terms of food security?

There was no answer—just a hush in the Hawai`i Convention Center’s meeting room. But, shouldn’t there be an equally ambitious effort to offset our state’s 85 percent dependence on imported food?

It seems that the earlier model of the family farm and small towns made a lot more sense than our current agribusiness-dominated global economy. As Kelly King of Pacific Biodiesel reminded a panel audience recently, all sustainability is local. In fact, King advocates a community model of local biofuel production far different than the recent bio-bomb dropped by the big state utility.

In their closing argument against Hawai`i Electric’s proposed new generating plant, Life of the Land’s Curtis called for alternatives to combustion—even of biofuels—which produce less harmful emissions. He advocated Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, seawater air conditioning and wave energy, which is currently being tested off Kaneohe Bay on Oahu. Curtis reminded us that all forms of energy production have environmental impacts.

Much as we’d like to blame others for all the challenges we face in the 21st century, we need to realize that we are the problem. Every dire environmental problem, from global warming to rainforest destruction, over-fishing to lack of fresh water, is traceable to the rapidly increasing number of humans impacting the planet. This year alone, an estimated 133 million babies are expected to be born.

Can we learn to live without our SUVs, big screen TVs and shipped-in luxuries? Will we convince each other to live in a way that minimizes environmental degradation?

Lots of big questions, indeed.

Biodiesel & Ethanol Net Energy

Read Rob Parsons Article to which DuByne is responding
Read Rob Parsons Response to the DuByne letter


Letter to Maui Time
by David DuByne
April 5, 2007
(Headings and empahasis added by webmaster)

Oilwell Production is Down

To follow up on the article “Potential Energy” by Rob Parsons in your Feb. 15, 2007 edition, we first need to understand why the switch to ethanol is happening. It’s called oil depletion or peak oil. Inside an oil well, just as in a glass of water there is only so much liquid. Since the pumps are so much better these days at getting oil out of the ground we are emptying many of the world’s oil wells faster than we are finding new oil to replace what is taken out worldwide year after year. For example in Mexico, a well called Cantarell is the second largest in the world after Garwar in Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest.

Three years ago Cantarell well produced 2.2 million barrels of oil per day, this year it is down to 1.5 million and by the end of 2007 it is predicted by Pemex State Oil Company to drop to 900,000 barrels per day. This case is not only limited to Mexico, it is happening in 34 of the 47 countries that sell oil on the world market every day.

This is exactly why the change over to ethanol and bio-diesel is occurring, for no other reason than we are backed into a corner with no other option. Currently there is no substitute to power our cars, ships, airplanes and trucks that deliver what we need to keep our lives intact. Solar, wind, nuclear, bio-mass gasification, hydroelectric power or coal can never power the vehicles we use to keep the economies of the world moving and goods delivered. We have fossil fuels and the new replacements of ethanol and oils from plants as replacements for transportation and farm machinery, period.

Ethanol – Energy Returned on Energy (EROEI)

Now let’s talk about ethanol. It’s mainly produced from corn but other crops can be used such as sugarcane, rice and tapioca. It takes energy to make energy, and the amount of energy you must invest in the process of making ethanol is called EROEI: Energy Returned On Energy Invested.

One gallon net production of corn ethanol requires three gallons of input for that production because corn ethanol has an EROEI of 1.34 to one. When you multiply the extra energy gained from production of each barrel by three, you get 1.02, or one extra barrel of positively gained energy. It takes three barrels of oil to make one barrel of ethanol (0.34 times three equals 1.02).[webmaster note: He’s saying that 3 barrels of oil makes 4 barrels of corn ethanol]

Sugarcane has an EROEI of eight. One barrel of energy input to turn sugarcane into ethanol gives eight positive barrels of usable energy. In addition, corn ethanol has less energy density (one gallon of ethanol produces 62 percent as much heat as one gallon of gasoline) so 1.38 gallons of ethanol is needed to equal one gallon of gasoline energy. So in reality one barrel isn’t really one barrel, it is a barrel in liquid volume, but not in energy density.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that ethanol distilleries will require only 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest. But the Earth Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that ethanol distilleries will need 139 million tons of corn, more than twice as much. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) relies heavily on the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA), a trade group, for data on ethanol distilleries under construction.

In actuality there are four firms that collect and publish data on U.S. ethanol distilleries under construction. RFA is the one most frequently cited, but the other three firms are Europe-based F.O. Licht, the publisher of World Ethanol and Bio-fuels Report; BBI International, which publishes Ethanol Producer Magazine; and the American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE), publisher of Ethanol Today.

Unfortunately, the lists of plants under construction maintained by RFA, BBI, and ACE are not complete. Each contains some plants that are not on the other lists. Drawing on these three lists and on bi-weekly reports from F.O. Licht, EPI has compiled a more complete master list. For example, EPI shows 79 plants under construction, RFA lists 62 plants.

According to the EPI compilation, the 116 ethanol plants in production on December 31, 2006, were using 53 million tons of grain per year, while the 79 plants under construction, mostly larger facilities, will use 51 million tons of grain when they come online. Expansions of 11 existing plants will use another eight million tons of grain (one ton of corn equals 39.4 bushels, which equals 110 gallons of ethanol).

In addition, easily 200 ethanol plants were in the planning stage at the end of 2006. If these translate into construction starts between January 1 and June 30, 2007, at the same rate that plants did during the final six months of 2006, then an additional three billion gallons of capacity requiring 27 million more tons of grain will likely come online by Sept. 1, 2008, the start of the 2008 harvest year. This raises the corn needed for distilleries to 139 million tons, half the 2008 harvest projected by USDA. This would yield nearly 15 billion gallons of ethanol, satisfying 6 percent of U.S. auto fuel needs.

This diversion of the world’s leading grain crop for the production of fuel will affect food prices everywhere. As the world corn price rises, so do those of wheat and rice for human consumption and sorghum, barley and millet for animal feed as markets look to other crops as replacements, people and animals still need to eat. With traditional animal feed from corn becoming more expensive look for dairy, meat and poultry prices to rise along with all human and animal consumption grains, starting now!

Let’s jump to 2015: Corn-based ethanol production would reach 31.5 billion gallons per year, or about 20 percent of projected U.S. fuel consumption in 2015. U.S. corn production 2006 was 11 billion bushels. Ethanol yield is approximately 2.5 gallons per bushel (39.4 bushels of corn equals 110 gallons of ethanol).

Ethanol has less energy density (one gallon of ethanol produces 62 percent as much heat as one gallon of gasoline) so 25 billion multiplied by 0.62 equals 15.8 billion gallons of gasoline energy, equivalent to about 10 percent or half the 20 percent Bush wants so these production numbers have to be doubled.

Sugarcane Better Than Corn for Ethanol

Keep in mind the grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year. This puts Hawai`i in a unique position for ethanol production from sugarcane, which has a high EROEI and provides a domestic fuel source for the islands, with a possibility to export excess ethanol back to the mainland.

With all of this massive energy input to generate six percent of U.S. fuel needs next year, consider we could save that six percent by simple conservation measures. The wall to breakdown that exists in this philosophy is conservation equals non-consumption, the 180-degree opposite of corporations whose philosophy is consume. Thanks Rob for getting the awareness started.

-David DuByne, former Maui resident now working on bio-fuel
development projects in Thailand

Read Rob Parsons Response to the DuByne letter
Read Rob Parsons Article to which DuByne is responding