Maui Business

Hawaiʻi renewable fuel firm receives $1.6M from US Department of Energy

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  • Oahu construction and demolition debris waste at the PVT Land sorting plant in Nanakuli (now closed).
  • Aloha Carbon team at Energy and Environment Research Center in North Dakota. Pictured left to right are Hattachai Buttayotee (UH student intern), Joelle Simonpietri, and Zak Wadas (Mechanical Engineering Technician).
  • Aloha Carbon team at EERC: Pictured left to right are Zak Wadas, Joelle Simonpietri, and Hattachai Buttayotee (UH student intern).
  • Site visit to Phoenix energy in California, which is building a plant from the same vendor and same design (Eqtec) as the one we plan to use in Hawaii for the first phase of our project. On left is the Phoenix Energy owner Greg Stangl, Joelle Simonpietri on the right.
  • Simonpietri Enterprises/Aloha Carbon founder and CEO Joelle Simonpietri.

Simonpietri Enterprises has received $1.6 million dollars to generate clean hydrogen fuel out of construction and demolition waste. The funding extends Simonpietri Enterprises’ track record of turning waste into clean energy for a wide variety of clients.

Simonpietri Enterprises LLC is a Hawaiʻi-based, woman-owned small business providing innovative technical and business consulting services to leading companies in transportation, fuels, waste management, and defense.

“Treated, painted, and glued lumber and other organic waste from construction and demolition debris can’t be burned in a biomass power plant, so today most of it goes straight into landfills all across the US — and Hawaiʻi is no exception,” said company president Joelle Simonpietri. “This idea, to make fuel out of construction and demolition debris rather than stick it in the ground, was born here in Hawaiʻi to solve Hawaiʻi problems: too many landfills that need to be expanded or relocated in these islands we call home, not enough local supply of renewable fuel to replace imported fossil fuels, and no local supply of renewable fuel that can be used in airplanes.”

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Based in Kailua, Simonpietri Enterprises is the only Hawaiʻi company among the 15 awarded in the $32 million allocated by the US Department of Energy for research and development projects focused on hydrogen fuel development. More than $80 million has been allocated in the last two years, part of the Biden Administration’s goal of achieving a net-zero carbon power sector by 2035.

“Clean hydrogen is an incredibly versatile tool for decarbonizing our economy and tackling the climate crisis,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE is investing in projects that will help bring down the cost of producing clean hydrogen, increase its availability as an affordable, low-carbon fuel for power production, and generate good-paying jobs.” 

Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when combined with oxygen in a fuel cell or burned in a gas turbine, can be used to produce electricity with only water and heat as by-products.

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The $2 million research project—which Simonpietri Enterprises is co-developing with the University of North Dakota—will focus on using gasification technology to turn high-volume, highly contaminated organic waste into locally sourced hydrogen. The long-term goal is to design and build modular, 5- to 50-megawatt equivalent plants to close waste-to-fuel technical gaps and produce hydrogen for hydrogen hubs as well as for transportation fuel refining. Simonpietri and the university’s Energy & Environmental Research Center will also investigate proprietary techniques to manage the trace metals and heavy metal contamination often found in large-scale demolition and construction waste.

In addition to the Department of Energy grant, Simonpietri Enterprises is currently working on a project with the University of Hawaiʻi’s Lyon Arboretum and local Hawaiian community organization Papahana Kuaola to evaluate whether invasive species found in Honolulu can be used as a feedstock for Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

And earlier this year, Simonpietri Enterprises won a separate, $650,000 competitive innovation award from the US Department of Agriculture. In that award, the Hawaiʻi small business was heralded for its “Aloha Carbon” technology, designed to make renewable jet fuel in a way that is cost-competitive with petroleum.  Simonpietri Enterprises was also highlighted as one of the few woman-led companies in the cohort funded by USDA this year.All of these projects have the same overall goal: deriving renewable fuel from waste materials that can compete with petroleum on cost, and beat it handily based on its greenhouse gas footprint.

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“For more than a decade, we have been leading the way in bringing renewable fuels to aviation, defense, transportation fleets, and other industries,” Simonpietri says. “To date with these research grants, we have completed trials on real-world waste, scaling up from pounds to tons and hours to weeks, proving that our process to make green hydrogen and components to manufacture SAF continues to be technically feasible and meet our cost targets.”

Simonpietri is a former active-duty US Navy officer, and previously helped lead the US Indo-Pacific Command’s Green Initiative for Fuels Transition Pacific program with the US Navy’s Director of Operational Energy. She also currently chairs the board of the nonprofit Hawaiʻi Bioeconomy Trade Organization.

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