Thinking about biofuels in Hawaii

Thinking about biofuels in Hawaii

Greetings, intrepid readers, and welcome to the third post highlighting an F&ES research field trip in Hawaii. To quickly recapitulate, we are a team of budding industrial ecologists studying the material resource and energy flows in and out of a proposed biofuels production plant in Ka’u, Hawaii. The biomass needed for the project would be cultivated on about 10,000 acres of land that is currently used for ranching and coffee production.

Today we took Saddle Road from Kona to Hilo, crossing between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and passing through desert and then lush green pastures. The climates of Hawaii have always amazed me and today’s drive across Hawaii Island felt like time travel: in a matter of minutes we saw three distinct climate zones. When we arrived in Hilo the sun was shining and the water was calm. I could hardly believe that this was the same island where I practiced meditation with a noted Tibetan lama on Tuesday and watched the sunset over boogie boarders on White Sands Beach last night. Hilo is a quiet town and we were able to sit and have relaxed conversations with a County Planner and the County Administrator for the Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences Department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. We learned about what plants would be best for biofuels production given the “desert” climate of Ka’u (I offer quotes because it rained every day we were in Ka’u) and how the agricultural land zoning creates opportunities for biofuels production.

This afternoon, after a quick lunch of Hawaiian BBQ, we visited an author of a huge baseline study on food security in Hawaii. He shared maps that quantified the amount of food produced in Ka’u and explained the imports and exports of the region. It was helpful for us to be able to define the boundaries of our analysis: the coffee leaving Ka’u for sale in Kona or Hilo is an export from the system and most all food consumed in Ka’u is imported.

Although each of the people we’ve spoken to has shared her or his opinion of the biofuels project proposal, I do not want to spoil our project report by spilling the (coffee?) beans yet! I will share more details on our findings tomorrow after we meet with a few more people.

Actually, we have a meeting at 11:30 am in Hilo (that’s a two-hour drive from our homestay). We’re hoping to wake up around 4:00 am to visit the Green Sands Beach on the southern most point of the United States (aptly named South Point) for sunrise. I’m hoping to visit the Mauna Kea Observatories to check out the stars (, but I’m going to have to wait until our research time ends tomorrow evening. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a picture of the moon that I took last night.