Thursday, January 13, 2011

Biofuels in Ka’u

Yesterday I went to a public presentation of a biofuels project in Pahala. A company called Aina Koa Pono wants to come into Ka'u and harvest biomass from 13,000 acres for a biofuel processing plant that will involve microwaves. The presentation was held at the Pahala Clubhouse, a graceful meeting space built during the plantation era. There were approximately 100 people there and two video cameras. It was a warm afternoon, and there were plenty of mosquitoes taking advantage of the crowd. The chief engineer Sandy (Alexander) Causey stood in front of the group and gave a fairly detailed explanation of the process by which the organic matter would be vaporized, filtered, re-vaporized and distilled into synthetic crude (aka biodiesel)l, kerosene (aka jet fuel) and gasoline. The byproduct of this process – char- would be put into a boiler to create electricity to run the plant. Everyone was very polite, but the questioning that ensued was decidedly skeptical in tone. Sandy Causey is not PR guy, which is a good thing for the people of Ka'u because they get to see what the real deal is on this project. To be blunt, there are big gaping holes in their business model as far as their agricultural/harvesting expertise. They really don't know what they are doing, especially in respect to the actual physical costs of growing and re-growing biomass. It's not something I hold against them very much. Ignorance of biological reality is rampant. On the other hand, ignorance does not inspire confidence. Is it okay for them to blunder into our neighborhood armed with a HECO contract, federal funding, and an amorphous plan? I really don't know. On the one hand, no one knows what they are doing when it comes to facing the transition from away fossil fuels on the ground level. We absolutely need to have alternative energy processes being developed, even if it not particularly efficient or knowledgeable production, just so that we can learn to be efficient. On the other hand, there is a good chance that the project will fail because of the project designers ignorance of some very basic realities of Ka'u, the kind of experience that regular people have, the ranchers, the farmers, the loggers, the bulldozer operators. Unfortunately that kind of experience does not seem to be getting into the spreadsheets for this project.

1 comment:

Alan D. McNarie said...

Aloha, Michelle,

I'm working on an article about the Aina Koa Pono proposal for the Big Island Weekly. I'd love to talk with you about it--specifically, what signs of their agricultural naivete you see (I can think of a couple, myself, as a former farm boy). But I'm on a tight deadline. Can you call me within the next 24 hours at 985-8882, or send any written comment you'd care to make to amcnarie at yahoo? I'll be in for the rest of this evening, and after 4 p.m. tomorrow.