Maui News

Algae-Based Biofuel Testing Comes to Hawai’i

September 29, 2011, 1:57 PM HST
* Updated September 29, 2:43 PM
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By Wendy Osher

Algae Inoculum Flasks. Photo courtesy Phycal, Inc.

An agreement was announced today between Hawaiian Electric and Phycal, Inc. for a supply of biofuel derived from algae for testing at the Kahe Generating Station.

The pilot algae farm project first came onto the radar in January 2010 when Phycal was selected through a competitive bid by the US Department of Energy to develop and test the viability of harvesting algae and converting extracted oils into renewable fuels.

“Hawai’i’s abundant sunlight and temperate climate are ideal for cultivating algae,” said Kevin Berner, president and CEO of Phycal, Inc.  “If successful, our pilot project will also demonstrate the economic viability of displacing petroleum imported into Hawai’i with locally grown feedstock for biofuels.”

Algae oil. Photo courtesy Phycal, Inc.

“After decades of near-total dependence on foreign oil, we must take advantage of diverse local energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, waste-to-energy, hydro, ocean and biofuel,” said Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric executive vice president.

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According to Hawaiian Electric, algae may be able to produce more than 10 times more oil per acre than land crops.  Another benefit, they say, is the cost-effectiveness of being able to grow algae on non-productive land using non-potable water and recycled carbon dioxide.

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The initial agreement calls for the delivery of up to 150,000 gallons of algae-based biofuel meeting Hawaiian Electric specifications by April 2014.  A subsequent agreement is expected to include up to three million gallons per year over three years.

The contract and pricing must still be approved by the Hawai’i Public Utilities Commission.

Phycal researchers. Courtesy Phycal, Inc.

The company received a $3 million award for Phase 1 of the project to develop a plan for the farm; and an additional $48.5 million for Phase 2, to advance toward the next step of design and construction of the facility.  Total cost over a four-year period is projected at $65 million.

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Company officials say the project will employ an estimated 30 scientists, engineers and workers.

Phycal plans to break ground on the pilot algae farm late this year or early next year on 34 acres near Poamoho Camp in Wahiawa on O’ahu.

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