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Hawaiian Electric Powers Up First Utility-Scale Biofuel Generator

January 29, 2011

HECO’s Kahe power plant was the first to use 100% biofuel.

Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has successfully powered up Kahe #3’s ninety-megawatt generator to full capacity using 100 percent sustainably produced palm oil. This demonstration was the culmination of a series of tests that HECO has been conducting in advance of its commitment to adopt biofuels in support of Hawaii’s renewable energy goals.

This is a giant step forward for Hawaii, which has remained dependent on imported petroleum for 90% of its energy needs.  By switching to renewable fuels HECO is encouraging the rapid growth of local producers and suppliers of biofuels.

“We believe this is the first time a utility-scale steam unit has fired on 100% biofuel at 100% capacity,” said Robbie Alm, Hawaiian Electric executive vice president. “This successful test confirms that biofuels – locally grown to the greatest extent possible – can be an important part of Hawaii’s clean energy future, along with energy from the sun, wind, ocean, waste-to-energy, hydro and geothermal.”

The test uses sustainably produced crude palm oil blended with palm stearin, an inedible by-product of palm oil refining usually used to make candles and soap. The oil for the test run was suppled by Sime Darby, a Malaysian multi-national corporation.

HECO’s demonstration showed that not only did the palm oil fuel perform well operationally, but also burned cleaner producing less visible emissions and lower nitrogen oxide (NOX) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels than the previously used low sulfur petroleum fuel oil.

Testing will continue and be expanded to evaluate continuous 24-hour operation on Hawaiian Electric’s energy management system. Results will assess the possible use of sustainable biofuels in Hawaiian Electric, Maui Electric and Hawai‘i Electric Light companies’ other steam generating units.

In April 2010, Hawaiian Electric also issued a Request for Proposals for a long-term supply of biofuels made from feedstocks produced and processed within the state of Hawaii for use on Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii Island.

Hawaii now has many new prospects for replacing not only generator fuel oil, but diesel and aviation fuels as well from locally produced, renewable fuel crops.  There has been significant investments made in the cultivation and production of algae oil as feedstock for biodiesel that can be blended with green waste and cellulose derived alcohols (ethanol).

The Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative set an ambitious goal of 70% renewable energy by 2030, and achieving it seems more promising than ever.

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