Taking Matters Into Our Own Palms

Richard Ha writes:

Over the weekend I
went to a Palm Oil presentation given by Dr. Bill Steiner, the recently retired
Dean of the University of Hawai‘i College of Agriculture, Forestry &
Natural Resources, and I made a decision: We are going to plant palms, and produce
enough palm oil to make our farm free of fossil fuel in 10 years.
Screen Shot 2012-10-09 at 9.25.19 AM

We use 12,000
gallons of diesel annually for our tractors and trucks. 

Oil palms produce
500 gallons/acre per year. If we plant thirty acres in palms, that should produce
15,000 gallons annually. This would allow us to grow our crops and definitely get them to
market, no matter what happens in the Middle East. 

We have the land, deep
soil and free water. A big disadvantage is that harvesting palm oil is labor intensive,
but the palms will not need to be replanted for 25 years. We already have the
land, and if oil is cheap and abundant 10 years from now, then we control our
cost by not harvesting. If, at that point, oil is expensive and hard to get, then
we harvest and are to get our produce to market. There are some
other issues, which we are working through right now. 

Palm oil production
is a proven technology. Palms like to grow in the tropics, and Hawai‘i is not
perfect at 22° north latitude, but we think it’s good enough. Palms need 80
inches of rain per year, and where we are we have one and a half times that amount falling
out of the sky.

Robert Rapier, who
writes the R-Squared energy column at Consumer Energy Report, has this to say about palm oil:

The Palm Oil Conundrum

by Robert Rapier

sometimes ask which biofuels are competitive head to head with crude oil. By
competitive, I mean those that can actually compete favorably with oil prices
on a level playing field (i.e., they don’t require big subsidies or mandates in
order to compete). There are two that always come to mind: Ethanol from
sugarcane (although less competitive currently due to high sugar prices) and
fuel from palm oil (oil derived from the fruits of the African
Oil Palm
). In fact, in the first book chapter I wrote in 2007 (Renewable
 in Biofuels, Solar and Wind as Renewable Energy Systems:
Benefits and Risks
) I highlighted palm oil as a crop with great
promise, but also great environmental risk:

far the most productive lipid crop, palm oil is the preferred oil crop in
tropical regions. The yields of up to five tons of palm oil per hectare can be
ten times the per hectare yield of soybean oil. Palm oil is a major source of
revenue in countries like Malaysia, where earnings from palm oil exports exceed
earnings from petroleum products.

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