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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Characterization of Potential Feedstocks of Hawaii Island and Development of Effective Technology for a "zero-Waste" Biofuels Approach

Location: Tropical Plant Genetic Resources and Disease Research

2011 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
A ‘Hamakua Project’ has been established which focuses on the development of an effective agriculture system based on the concept of ‘zero waste’. The project consists of interrelated components on agriculture production and value added research, development of biofuels from regional feedstock, and enhancement of the communities in Hamakua through the deployment of the ‘zero waste’ concept. In this proposal, the focus is on the biofuel component of the project. The specific objectives are to: .
1)analyze existing feedstock in Hamakua (defined as from Hilo to Waipio Valley) primarily and feedstocks from other parts of Hawaii Island,.
2)develop a transition plan of the research activities to the overall biofuel needs of the US Navy, and.
3)to develop a Request for Proposal in conjunction with the Office of Naval Research to test various technologies for development of biofuels from selected feestocks that are analyzed. The overall goal is that the biofuel component of the Hamakua Project will be a model that is repeatable in the US and also in other Pacific Islands that are strategic for the US.

Objective 2 focuses on developing a document to show relevance of the work in the Hamakua project to the biofuel interests of the U.S. Navy. A transition plan will directly relate the work being done in the Hamakua Project to the US Navy biofuel interests. The transition document will be developed by Rivertop Energy Solutions, LLC, who has lots of experience in developing such plans and who helped the principal investigator development the overall Hamakua Project. In this respect, the Hamakua Project is an excellent model because of the analysis of a wide range of regional feedstock for biofuel and the development of conversion technologies for these range of feedstock. The information and approaches developed in the project could be repeated in other parts of the US and Pacific Islands, and thus help in US Navy in their worldwide strategic biofuel plans.

Once substantial information is obtained from the analysis of the different feedstocks in Hamakua and other parts of Hawaii Island, a Request for Proposals will be prepared to develop strategies and technologies for producing biofuel from the various feedstocks. This is a logical follow up on the work that is done to characterize the various feedstocks. The technologies, heterotrophic algae being one of them, will be tested in the PBARC laboratories and deployed at the farm level in Hamakua.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
Hamakua and other parts of Hawaii Island produce a range of feedstocks that could be potential sources for biofuel production. Many of them are food crops, such as papaya and sweet potato, for which the waste stream (as culled fruits, parts of the plant) could be a inexpensive and good source for production of biofuel. Others may be trees or plants which could be directly used for biofuel production, while still others may be specifically grown to produce an inexpensive source of feedstock (such as sweet sorghum on very marginal land) that would be used specifically for biofuel. While these sources may be useful, cost-effective technologies need to be deployed to produce biofuels. In this proposal, we will focus on the development of biodiesel or derivatives, and not alcohol. Using a systematic approach, in the objective 1 above, a range of potential feedstocks will be analyzed to determine the qualitative and quantitative components (such as sugars, oils, cellulose content) that could be converted to biofuels. One specific approach that the investigators plan to focus on will be the use of heterotrophic algae for converting waste material from food crops to biodiesel. However, other conversion approaches will be utilized especially on nonfood crops that are not amenable to heterotrophic algae, such as woody trees.


3.Progress Report

The research focused on selecting strains of heterotrophic algae that could use regional feedstock as a carbon source to produce oil for biofuel and protein for feeds. Papaya was selected as the regional feed stock and Chlorella protothechoides as the algae. Two algae strains were adapted to grow on papaya fruit puree were selected by our cooperator Biotork, Inc. and used in our laboratory in experiments to develop conditions to grow algae and maximize algae oil production. Efforts were also focused on maximizing algae cell disruption for efficient recovery of oil. The algae were raised successfully in two liter flasks and oil and meal recovered from the algae. It was shown that thorough disruption of algae cells before hexane extraction was necessary to maximize oil recovery. The most recent experiment that used the algae strain which utilized ammonium sulfate as a nitrogen source produced a yield of 40% oil (oil/dry meal weight + oil). Future efforts will focus on optimizing cell density and conditions for high oil production, and to scale up to 55 gallon containers.

Our cooperator Rivertop Energy Solutions is gathering information to write a comprehensive transition plan of the research activities to the overall biofuel needs of the US Navy. The progress to date are: Conducted an analysis of the potential contribution of the algae oils derived from Hawaii Big Island waste products to the required supply chain for the Department of the Navy’s Title III Bio-Refinery. Developed a report for the Department of the Navy identifying the risks and rewards associated with the project, and the projected funding requirements to bring the project to completion. Developed a preliminary economic analysis using a range of projected efficiencies to identify needed algae growth range that is required to make the end process commercially viable. This economic analysis includes a series of ratios between the sale of meal and oil, and shows a range of combinations that can make the overall process viable. This analysis serves as the basis for the discussions and briefings with the Department of the Navy regarding future funding. Developed a proposed approach to demonstrating the value of the project during the 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation to which the President of the United States, Secretary of the Navy, and Secretary of Agriculture would be invited.

This project is monitored through meetings, conference calls, on-site research, telephone and email communications.


Last Modified: 12/22/2014
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