What are biofuels?
If our community is to reduce our dependence on imported oil, we must make the most of all available local resources, including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, ocean energy -- and agricultural energy or biofuel.
Biofuel and biomass are general terms for a renewable energy fuel that is created from living, or recently alive organisms, including wood and other plants, waste, and marine algae. Fossil fuels, in contrast, are long dead organisms that have been under geological pressure deep underground for millions of years.
Materials for biofuel may grow wild or be grown for biofuel production (like energy plants or algae) or collected post-user (plantation bagasse and municipal solid waste) to generate electricity. Biomass can be “direct burned” for heat to create steam to create electricity or gasified to burn and create steam to create electricity. Biomass may also be converted into liquid biofuels, such as biodiesel or biogas. Biofuel can be processed through various systems to create biodiesel which can be used interchangeably with petroleum based diesel.
Learn more about biomass used for creation of electricity.
Why do biofuels make sense for Hawaii?
Hawaii has a unique opportunity to take advantage of biofuels to generate electricity because our power plants use liquid fuels. Most fossil fuel power plants in the United States burn coal or natural gas, meaning they cannot use liquid biofuels.
Because we use liquid fuels in Hawaii, we can make the switch to biofuels and make the most use of our existing power plants. Our customers have bought and have paid for billions of dollars in generation infrastructure that burns petroleum products to make electricity. We have the opportunity to maximize that investment by switching from “black” liquid fuel to “green” liquid fuel – that is, biofuel -- without walking away from or making major alterations to our existing facilities and infrastructure.
The conversion will serve as a bridge to the future as we integrate new solar, wind and other renewable resources and as other renewable energy technologies such as Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion become commercially viable.
||Biofuels can be stored, moved and used in present power plants.
||We can sign long-term, FIXED price contracts for biofuel, making the cost of energy more stable and predictable. No one can control, or predict, the cost of oil, which is headed up. A dollar for local biofuel creates jobs and boosts farming here. A dollar spent on oil leaves our state economy.
||Reliable biofuel energy available on demand helps add other renewables to our grids -- like wind and solar that need back up because the wind does not always blow nor does the sun always shine. We can use biofuels in existing and new firm electricity generators as part of a portfolio of renewable resources.
||Biofuels are cleaner and greener than fossil fuels, helping to control our greenhouse gas emissions.
Seeking biofuels for Hawaii
Request for Proposals
In April, 2010, the Hawaiian Electric companies began a formal quest for a long-term supply of biofuels made from feedstocks produced and processed within the state of Hawaii.
These local biofuel supplies may be proposed for use at Hawaiian Electric companies’ generation sites on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island.
The request for proposals was open to land or water-based crops, waste animal fat or yellow grease feedstocks originating in Hawaii that may be converted to liquid biofuel. Each growing, production and processing method for supplying biofuels to Hawaiian Electric companies must meet all environmental standards and other requirements under federal, state and county laws.
Beyond meeting Hawaii's renewable energy goals quickly and efficiently, Hawaiian Electric's goal is to creating a market for locally produced biofuels which can:
||encourage fuel and food agriculture in Hawaii
||stabilize and lower customers’ energy costs by signing long-term and fixed-pricing contracts
||support the local economy by keeping in Hawaii more of the billions of dollars currently sent out of state to pay for oil purchases
||integrate more intermittent renewables by proving firm, renewable generation as a back up
||protect Hawaii’s island environment using cleaner, greener fuels in existing power plants.
The request for proposals drew about 10 responses. As of late 2011, Hawaiian Electric signed contracts with several partners, including:
||Pacific Biodiesel to supply biodiesel to the soon-to-be built Honolulu International Airport Emergency Generation Facility
||Hawaii BioEnergy to supply biodiesel to Kahe Power Plant
||Phycal, Ltd. to supply biodiesel from algae to be tested in Kahe Power Plant
These contracts must be reviewed by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.
A fourth contract, with Aina Koa Pono to supply biodiesel to Keahole Power Plant on Hawaii Island was not approved by the Public Utilities Commission, primarily due to questions about the cost. Hawaiian Electric and AKP are in continuing discussions about next steps with the goal of meeting the need for biodiesel at Keahole Power Plant.
Negotiations are continuing with other potential suppliers of local biofuel which responded to the April 2010 request for proposals.
Biofuel for Oahu
Campbell Industrial Park
In 2010, Hawaiian Electric Company completed construction, tested, signed fuel contracts and brought into service the Campbell Industrial Park Generating Station. It is, believed to be the largest commercial generator in the world fueled exclusively with sustainable biodiesel. The 110-MW, simple-cycle unit located in West Oahu consists of one combustion turbine generator and auxiliary systems.
Following a competitive bidding process, Hawaiian Electric has selected Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group (REG) to supply biodiesel for the unit. The high quality biodiesel is processed from used cooking oil (known as yellow grease) and waste animal fat.
With its rapid response capability, CIP Generating Station is an essential part of the Hawaiian Electric system, supplying needed reserves during peak demand periods and as needed at other times.
Kahe Power Plant
In 2011, Hawaiian Electric Company successfully used 100% renewable biofuel to fire a petroleum oil-fired steam turbine generator at Kahe Power Plant. It is believed to be the first time a utility-scale steam unit has fired on 100% biofuel at 100% capacity.
The successful test confirmed that biofuels – locally grown to the greatest extent possible – can be an important part of Hawaii’s clean energy future.
The 90 MW Kahe #3 Biofuel Co-firing Demonstration Project was conducted in cooperation with the Electric Power Research Institute based in Palo Alto, California, to determine how much biofuel can be used to offset the use of fossil fuel oil in steam generating units.
The tests found that using biofuel reduced opacity (visibility of emissions) and emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOX) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) compared to using low sulfur fuel oil.
The sustainably produced crude palm oil used in the test was blended with palm stearin, an inedible by-product of palm oil refining usually used to make candles and soap.
Biofuel for Maui
Biodiesel has been used on Maui in Ma'alaea Power Plant – which relies primarily on petroleum diesel for fuel -- start up and shut down of generators. The biofuel, originally obtained from Pacific Biodiesel to avoid opacity (visibility of emissions) problems which can lead to violations of air quality permits.
In 2011, sustainable biodiesel was tested in generators over a three-month period to determine if there were any adverse effects from long-term use of biodiesel. That test was successful indicating that biodiesel alone or in blends could be used in existing diesel-fired generators in Maui County, on Hawaii Island and on Oahu.
Keeping biofuels sustainable
Hawaiian Electric’s preference is biofuel from locally-grown and processed crops. The goal is to encourage an agricultural energy industry in Hawaii to protect and green open space, revive agriculture for food and fuel, create jobs and keep more of Hawaii’s energy dollars at home – in addition to reducing our use of imported fossil fuel. Until a local agricultural energy industry is established, it will be necessary to import biofuel.
Any company chosen to supply biofuel to Hawaiian Electric and its subsidiaries must supply environmentally sustainable biofuel. In August, 2007, the "Environmental Policy for Procurement of Biodiesel from Palm Oil and Locally-Grown Feedstocks,” was developed by Hawaiian Electric and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a highly respected environmental action organization.. For its local biofuel RFP, Hawaiian Electric conferred with the NRDC to request that suppliers comply with the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels principles and criteria for feedstock other than palm oil.
View the HECO-NRDC Policy Progress Report - February 2010
View the HECO-NRDC sustainable biofuel procurement policy.
View the HECO-NRDC Policy Implementation Report.
Unsustainable practices. In some parts of the world, notably Indonesia, rainforests may be cleared to provide land and other unsustainable practices are used to grow biofuels. Hawaiian Electric has a preference for local biofuels, domestic biofuels (from the U.S. Mainland) and when foreign biofuel must be imported it must meet strict sustainability standards (see Keeping biofuels sustainable).
Food vs. fuel. Some advocate that food security is as important as fuel security for Hawaii and land should be used to grow food rather than energy crops. There is estimated to be 120,000 acres of fallow and underused land in Hawaii. Biofuels in many cases can use land that is not suitable for food agriculture. Energy agriculture and food agriculture can be mutually supportive in many ways, including increasing the availability of agricultural machinery and fertilizers. Biofuel processing can supply a market for agricultural wastes, helping make food agriculture profitable. Some by-products of biofuel processing, such as bio-char, can be used as fertilizer and takes more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
Transportation vs. energy. Some advocate that biofuels are best used for transportation instead of electricity. Ultimately, market forces will determine the best use of any biofuel product. Meanwhile, the electric industry is uniquely suited to help jump-start the biofuel industry in Hawaii. A utility can enter into long-term contracts for biofuels that will encourage local landowners and agricultural interests to invest in the infrastructure and land use practices that will lead to an agricultural energy industry.
Diesel and biodiesel will continue to be in demand for some surface and marine transportation needs. Biofuel may eventually provide an alternative to petroleum based jet fuel. In the near term, however, ground transportation is most likely to be converted to electric hybrids and plug-in cars and light trucks. As with food vs. fuel, the issue is not one or the other, we must develop our local biofuel resources for transportation as well as energy.
We’ll likely never meet all our local energy needs with local biofuel. However, we can get a significant percentage of our energy needs from biofuels, as well as from solar, wind, geothermal, waste-to-energy, ocean energy, and more.
Some studies have noted a potential negative greenhouse gas impact of certain biofuels, depending on which crops are used and how they are procured. The studies clearly make the point that there are right ways and wrong ways to pursue biofuels.
The studies primarily discuss ethanol, and in particular ethanol from corn and other food products, and note that when these crops are grown on lands converted from rainforests and other previously undisturbed ecosystems, the result can be the release of more CO2, a "carbon debt" that must be paid down over time before the value of lower CO2 from using biofuels instead of fossil fuels can result in a net CO2 benefit.
Here in Hawaii, the Hawaiian Electric utilities’ are not planning to use ethanol and our goal is to use as much as biofuel as possible from feedstocks that are grown in Hawaii on agricultural land that is now fallow.
As a transition to that time, while there will be a need to import biofuel or its feedstocks, those imports must comply with the very strict sustainable sourcing requirements, such as those developed by Hawaiian Electric in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council – one of the most respected environmental groups in the country.
In the long run, the potential of sustainable feedstocks like algae, which feeds on carbon dioxide, offers the promise of a “next generation” biodiesel that does not impact any agricultural lands. This algae-based biodiesel could supplement feedstocks grown in Hawaii by local farmers.