Tag Archives: Hilo

Disturbing Banana Bunchy Top Virus Trend

Richard Ha writes:

We've noticed an uptick lately in the number of banana plants in and around Hilo town that are affected with the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). Banana farmers are constantly watching for this, and lately we are seeing more of it.

bunchy top.jpt

We brought up this disturbing trend with Scott Enright, who is chair of the Department of Agriculture. Kamran Fujimoto had been concentrating on BBTV, but recently he has been focusing on fire ants and coconut rhinocerous beetle and traveling to O‘ahu.

Banana farmers have a tradition of being proactive. Lynn Richardson, who is a veteran banana farmer, had made a BBTV page on Facebook.

We would much rather be proactive and keep the disease under control than need to seek a GMO solution. Australia has a successful BBTV control program going, but it does have a law in place that allows inspectors to go into a person's yard to eradicate infected plants.

Our banana farmers report new infections as they see them, but we have been losing ground lately and it is a big concern.

Scott Enright listened to the banana growers and he immediately assigned two people to work with Kamran. Scott is not one to fool around. He moves fast.


Around The World on a Wa’a

Richard Ha writes:

The Polynesian voyaging canoes Hokule‘a and Hikianalia departed Hilo a couple days ago, headed for Tahiti on the first leg of an around-the-world voyage. Kalepa Babayan is captain of the Hokule‘a, and he melds ancient ways with modern technology and education. He is one of the most solidly grounded person I know. 

Hokule‘a crew member Na‘alehu Anthony blogged about leaving Hilo in It Takes a Community to Launch a Canoe:

Literally thousands of members of our ʻohana waʻa (canoe family) have come to see the canoes.  School groups by the busloads have come to share mele (songs) and hoʻokupu (offerings) to the canoes and crew. But if one looks a little closer, they can start to really notice how well this community still understands the sense of aloha. Every day for the past 10 days this community has come out to feed the crew three meals a day.  Cars have been dropped off to help with last minute runs to the store. People have come without any expectation of personal gain to give of their time to just help us prepare for this 47,000 mile journey. Just this morning after sunrise, one of the uncles from nearby came to drop off a dozen or so lei, that he personally strung together with flowers from his yard, just to “Aloha” the canoes.  He didn’t even ask to come aboard, rather, he left them in the care of one of our watch captains to bless the canoes with the sweet fragrance that reminds us all of Hilo.

We did our small part by supplying bananas and tomatoes, and feel very privileged to be able to support Hawai‘i's voyagers, along with hundreds of others. We learned, early on, that the voyaging crews like fresh fruit, especially longer into the trip, so we do this as much as we can on the voyages out of Hilo. We do our best to stage the ripening at different times, and try to see how far into the voyage we can get the bananas to last. We once got a batch to last until the crew reached the equator. 

Keaukaha was the host community for the wa‘a and their crews, and its president, Patrick Kahawaiola'a, was in charge of coordinating. June and I went to Palekai to see the canoes the other day.

As we walked down to the water, we ran into Bruce Blankenfeld, the captain of Hikianalia. I knew he had lots on his mind, so I introduced myself by saying we had supplied bananas on previous trips, and that they should "try keep the bananas separated so they no all go off at one time." He knew exactly what I meant. I gave him the thumbs up and we kept on going. 

To me, the voyage of the Hokule‘a and the Hikianalia represents hope for mankind. It is about the spirit of aloha. It is about using the resources available, modern and ancient, in a smart way. But mostly it's about attitude. There are a thousand reasons why no can. We need just one reason why, CAN.

From www.hokulea.com:

Island Wisdom, Ocean Connections, Global Lessons

Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia, our Polynesian voyaging canoes, are sailing across Earth’s oceans to join and grow the global movement toward a more sustainable world. Covering 47,000 nautical miles, 85 ports, and 26 countries, the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage will highlight diverse cultural and natural treasures and the importance of working together to protect them. The Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage began in 2013 with a Mālama Hawaiʻi sail around our archipelago, and will continue through 2017 when our new generation of navigators take the helm and guide Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia back to Polynesia after circumnavigating the globe.

The Hawaiian name for this voyage, Mālama Honua, means “to care for our Earth.” Living on an island chain teaches us that our natural world is a gift with limits and that we must carefully steward this gift if we are to survive together. As we work to protect cultural and environmental resources for our children’s future, our Pacific voyaging traditions teach us to venture beyond the horizon to connect and learn with others. The Worldwide Voyage is a means by which we now engage all of Island Earth—practicing how to live sustainably, while sharing, learning, creating global relationships, and discovering the wonders of this precious place we all call home.


Hilo’s PUC Meeting Successful: ‘Enough is Enough’

Richard Ha writes:

Monday night’s PUC hearing in Hilo went very well. The overwhelming sentiment was that enough is enough. People will not take any more electricity rate hikes.

Big Island Video News has posted a video about the PUC meeting.

VIDEO: Aina Koa Pono, HELCO rate hikes blasted at PUC hearing

October 30, 2012

Video by David Corrigan, Voice of Stephanie Salazar

HILO, Hawaii: Residents of East Hawaii packed the Hilo High School cafeteria, to tell the Public Utilities Commission what they think about a proposed electricity rate hike and and biofuel surcharge…. Watch the Big Island Video News video here.

It’s hard to remember that until the BICC dared say it, no one could imagine we could actually get lower rates. We have made good progress. People are now saying they want lower rates, and expecting it.

In its “Off the News” section this morning, the Star-Advertiser wrote:

Electricity bill too high? Wear slippers

“Not to make light of a serious situation such as rising electricity bills, or a consumer group’s desire to show solidarity.  In an era when pennies – and dollars – must be pinched to get by, solidarity over cost-of living issues is a good thing.

That said, it was interesting to see that the Big Island Community Coalition opposed to a surcharge to finance the use of biofuels to produce power, urged its members to wear rubber slippers to last night’s public hearing as a show of uniform solidarity. This being Hawaii, what other footwear would folks don for a pau hana (after work) forum?

Of course this may have been a smart strategic move. This way the PUC might have scanned the room and figured that every last person was opposed.  It also ruled out slippers as a footwear choice for commission members, too….”

It was a civilized hearing and most of the many testimonies were on point.

About 150 people were in attendance and it was a diverse audience, including: Faye Hanohano, Fred Blas, Jeff Melrose, Richard Onishi, Russell Ruderman, PGV people from Nevada, Jim Albertini, Deborah Ward, Patrick Kahawaiola‘a, Mililani Trask, John Cross, Ka‘u people, ILWU, IBEW, Carpenters, Laborers, HELCO group, the Aina Koa Pono (AKP) core group, Sierra Club and other community members.

Other than HELCO, AKP and those who needed to be cautious, most of the rest were allies of low-cost electricity.

In today’s Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Mayor Billy Kenoi made it very clear that he is against the AKP project for several reasons.

Kenoi criticizes biodiesel proposal

By ERIN MILLER Stephens Media

Aina Koa Pono’s biodiesel proposal isn’t a good deal for Hawaii County residents, Mayor Billy Kenoi said Monday, hours before the Public Utilities Commission was set to begin its first Big Island hearing on the subject.

“This to me looks like one of those deals, after 10, 20 years, we ask how did we let that happen?” Kenoi said. “Ultimately, there is no benefit to the people of the Island of Hawaii….” 

Read the rest

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald also wrote about the PUC meeting itself.

Online Extra: HELCO rate hikes blasted

Tribune-Herald Staff Writer

No more increases.

That seemed to be the main message relayed to members of the state Public Utilities Commission on Monday night by more than 100 Big Isle residents who showed up at a public hearing at the Hilo High cafeteria to weigh in on two separate electricity rate hikes proposed by Hawaii Electric Light Co. Inc….

Read the rest here

Tonight is the West Hawai‘i PUC meeting (Tuesday, October 30, 2012) at 6 p.m. in the Kealakehe High School cafeteria.

And the third and final meeting will be held this Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 6 p.m. at Farrington High School.

Wear your rubbah slippahs!


Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror; Geothermal in the Headlights

Last week Wally Ishibashi and I gave a presentation to the Hawaii County Council. There’s a video of our talk up now on local channel 52, where it will repeat from time to time.

Wally spoke about the Geothermal Working Group Report we gave to the legislature. I talked about “Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror,” from the perspective of having been the only person from Hawai‘i to attend four Peak Oil conferences.

On Monday, I gave an essay presentation to the Social Science Association of Hawai‘i, whose members are prominent members of our community. This organization has been in operation since the 1800s.

From Kamehameha School Archives, 1886 January 21 -1892. Bishop becomes a member of the Social Science Association of Honolulu. All Bishop Estate Trustees and the first principal of Kamehameha Schools, William B. Oleson, are members. Members meet monthly to discuss topics concerning the well-being of society.

And yesterday I gave a “Peak Oil in the Rear View Mirror” presentation to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE) Committee.

I was interested to note that the Hawaii County Council, the Social Science Association of Hawaii and OHA’s BAE committee were all overwhelmingly in favor of stabilizing electricity rates. It was clear to everyone that we in Hawai‘i are extremely vulnerable, and also so lucky to have a game-changing alternative.

Screen shot 2012-02-09 at 11.24.53 PM

Hawaii is the world’s most remote population in excess of 500,000 people. Almost everybody and everything that comes to Hawaii comes via ship or airplane using oil as fuel. As isolated as we are, we are vulnerable to the changing nature of oil supply and demand. There is trouble in paradise.

I explained how it was that a banana farmer came to be standing in front of them giving a presentation about energy.

My story started way back when I was 10 years old. I remember Pop talking about impossible situations, and suddenly he would pound the dinner table with his fist, the dishes would bounce, and he would point in the air. “Not no can, CAN!” And at other times: “Get thousand reasons why no can, I only looking for the one reason why can.” He would say, “For every problem, find three solutions …. And then find one more just in case.”

Once he said, “Earthquake coming. You can hear it and see the trees whipping back and forth and see the ground rippling.” He gave a hint: “If you are in the air you won’t fall down. What you going do?”

I said, “Jump in the air.” He said yes, and do a half turn. I asked why.

He said, “Because after a couple of jumps you see everything.”

Lots of lessons in what he told a 10-year-old kid. Nothing is impossible. Plan in advance.

I made my way through high school and applied to the University of Hawai‘i. But I came from small town Hilo, and there were too many places to go, people to see and beers to drink. I flunked out of school.

It was during the Vietnam era, and if you flunked out of school you were drafted. Making the best of the situation, I applied for Officers Candidate School and volunteered to go to Vietnam.

I found myself in the jungle with a hundred other soldiers. It was apparent that if we got in trouble, no one was close enough to help us. The unwritten rule we lived by was that “We all come back, or no one comes back.” I liked that idea and have kept it ever since.

I returned to Hawai‘i and reentered the UH. I wanted to go into business, so I majored in accounting in order to keep score.

Pop asked if I would come and run the family chicken farm. I did, and soon realized that there would be an opportunity growing bananas. Chiquita was growing the banana market and we felt that we could gain significant market share if we moved fast. But, having no money, we needed to be resourceful. So we traded chicken manure for banana keiki.

A little bit at a time we expanded, and after a bunch of transformations, we became the largest banana farm in the state. Then about 20 years ago we purchased 600 acres at Pepe‘ekeo and we got into hydroponic tomato farming.

Approximately seven years ago, we noticed that our farm input costs were rising steadily, and I found out that it was related to rising oil prices. So in 2007, I went to the Association for the Study of Peak Oil (ASPO) conference to learn about oil. What I learned at that first ASPO conference was that the world had been using more oil than it was finding, and that it had been going on for a while.

Screen shot 2012-02-09 at 11.25.05 PM

In addition to using more than we were finding, it was also apparent that the natural decline rate of the world’s cumulative oil fields needed to be accounted for. The International Energy Association (IEA) estimates that this decline rate is around 5 percent annually. This amounts to a natural decline of 4 million gallons per year. We will need to find the equivalent of a Saudi Arabia every two and a half years. Clearly we are not doing that, and will never do that.

At the second ASPO conference I attended, in Denver in 2009, I learned that the concept of Energy Return on Investment (EROI) was becoming more and more relevant. It takes energy to get energy, and the net energy that results is what is available for society to use. In the 1930s, getting 100 barrels of oil out of the ground took the energy in one of those barrels. In 1970, it was 30 to 1 and now it is close to 10-1.

Tar sands is approximately 4 to 1, while some biofuels are a little more than 1 to 1. And, frequently, fossil fuel is used to make biofuels. That causes the break-even point to “recede into the horizon.”

But the EROI for geothermal appears to be around 10 to 1. And its cost won’t rise for 500,000 to a million years.

Screen shot 2012-02-09 at 11.25.25 PM

After the oil shocks of the early 1970s, the cost of oil per barrel was around the mid-$20 per barrel. That lasted for nearly 30 years.

In this graph above, one can see that oil would have cost around $35 per barrel in 2011, had inflation been the only influencer of oil price.

The cost of oil spiked in 2008, contributing to or causing the worst recession in history. In fact the last 10 recessions were related to spiking oil prices.

From late 2008 until mid-2009, the price of oil dropped as demand collapsed for a short time. But demand picked back up and the price of oil has climbed back to $100 per barrel – in a recession.

It is important to note that we in the U.S. use 26 barrels of oil per person per year, while in China each person uses only two barrels per person per year. Whereas we go into a recession when oil costs more than $100 per barrel, China keeps on growing. This is a zero sum game as we move per capita oil usage toward each other.

What might the consequences be as China and the U.S. meet toward the middle at 13 barrels of oil per person?

People are having a tough time right now due to rising energy-related costs. Two thirds of the economy is made up of consumer spending. If the consumer does not have money, he/she cannot spend.

Screen shot 2012-02-09 at 11.25.37 PM

How will we keep the lights on and avoid flickering lights? Eighty percent of electricity needs to be firm, steady power. The other 20 percent can be unsteady and intermittent, like wind and solar. So the largest amount of electricity produced needs to have firm power characteristics.

There are four main alternatives being discussed today.

  1. Oil is worrisome because oil prices will likely keep on rising.
  2. Biofuels is expensive and largely an unproven technology. The EPA changed its estimation of cellulosic biofuel in 2011 from 250 million gallons to just 6.5 million gallons because cellulosic biofuels were not ready for commercial production.
  3. Biomass or firewood is a proven technology. Burn firewood, boil water, make steam, turn a generator – that’s a proven technology. It is limited because you cannot keep on burning the trees; they must be replenished. And it’s not clear where that equilibrium point is. There are also other environmental issues.
  4. That leaves geothermal.

The chain of islands that have drifted over the Pacific hotspot extends all the way up to Alaska. This has been going on for over 85 million years.

It’s estimated that the Big Island, which is over the hot spot now, will be sitting atop that hot spot for 500,000 to a million more years.

Of all the various base power solutions, geothermal is most affordable. Right now it costs around 10 cents per Kilowatt hour to produce electricity using geothermal, while oil at $100 per barrel costs twice as much. The cost of geothermal-produced electricity will stay steady. Allowing for inflation, geothermal generated electricity will stay stable for 500,000 to a million years, while oil price will rise to unprecedented heights in the near future.

Geothermal is proven technology. The first plant in Italy is 100 years old. Iceland uses cheap hydro and geothermal. It uses cheap electricity to convert bauxite to aluminum and sells it competitively on the world market. With the resulting hard currency, it buys the food that it cannot grow.

Iceland is more energy- and food-secure than we are in Hawai‘i. Ormoc City in the Philippines, which has a population similar to the Big Island, produces 700MW of electricity with its geothermal resource, compared to our 30 MW. Ormoc City shares the excess with other islands in the Philippines.

Geothermal is environmentally benign. It is a closed loop system and has a small footprint. A 30 MW geothermal plant sits on maybe 100 acres, while a similarly sized biomass project might take up 10,000 acres.

In addition, geothermal can produce cheap H2 hydrogen when people are sleeping. It is done by running an electric current through water releasing hydrogen and oxygen gas. One can make NH3 ammonia by taking the hydrogen and combining it with nitrogen in the air. That ammonia can be used for agriculture. NH3 ammonia is a better carrier of hydrogen that H2 hydrogen.

The extra H atom makes NH3 one third more energy-dense than H2 hydrogen. It can be shipped at ambient temperature in the propane infrastructure.

The use of geothermal can put future generations in a position to win when the use of hydrogen becomes more mature.

If we use geothermal for most of our base power requirements for electric generation, as oil prices rise we will become more competitive to the rest of the world. And our standard of living will rise relative to the rest of the world.

Then, because two thirds of GDP is made up of consumer spending, our people will have jobs and we will not have to export our most precious of all our resources – our children.

In addition, people will have discretionary income and will be able to support local farmers, and that will help us ensure food security.


‘Let’s Grow Hilo’ Sprouting Up Downtown

Hilo’s street scape is changing. More native plants, such as kalo, are sprouting up along the roadways downtown.


This is the traffic island at Mamo and Keawe Streets.


Mamo Street, looking toward the Hilo Farmers Market.


This past weekend I saw a group of folks planting more kalo and other native plants on Front Street. It’s part of “Let’s Grow Hilo.”

From Big Island Weekly:

…In Hilo, the Natural Farming Hawaii group has planted taro, bananas and other edibles such as papaya trees in median strips and other areas that were previously wasted ground. In partnership with the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association, the group has only just begun to beautify Hilo with edible landscaping. Their first area is located at the intersection of Mamo, Keawe and Kilauea streets, near the Hilo Farmers Market. Their use of natural farming methods and local materials such as coconut husk mulch from the farmers market are helping to create verdant gardens in the middle of city streets.

Sam Robinson, Coordinator of the Hilo Downtown Improvement Association’s “Let’s Grow Hilo” project explained the decision that prompted the launching of edible landscaping: “It started as a guerrilla movement. I just started planting things around town. It’s a project I’ve wanted to do since I was a teenager because I love to garden and grow my own food. When I first started planting in Hilo, I got permission from some of the business owners where I was doing plantings, but basically I just started doing it….”  Read the rest.

Also from that article:

“We’ll be developing a walking map as we add more garden areas so people will know where they can go to pick their own free fruit and vegetables. Our ultimate goal is to give all residents the knowledge and the means to change their diets for the better by providing recipes and education for healthy meals and snacks.”

I really like this. It is unusual but very appropriate.


Women as ‘Economic Growth Strategy’ & East Hawaii’s Business Woman of the Year

Richard and June had a table at the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce’s Athena luncheon yesterday, for the presentation of East Hawai‘i’s Business Woman of the Year, and they invited me to join them. It was a good lunch at ‘Imiloa, and a nice event.

Before the Athena award was presented, Connie Lau, President/CEO of HEI, gave a talk about empowering women that I found really interesting.

She discussed U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy at a recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

(Clinton) articulated important steps in a path toward the Participation Age—where every individual has the opportunity to be a contributing and valued member of the global marketplace—including strategies to remove barriers that have prevented women from being full participants in the economy and unlock their potential as drivers of economic growth.

Clinton said that unlocking the potential of women in the work force, where women are underutilized or are bumping their heads on glass ceiling after glass ceiling, would add 9 percent to our GDP, 13 percent to the Euro Zone’s, and 16 percent to China’s.

At a time when the U.S. is struggling to have a 2.5 to 3 percent GDP, seeing it bump up to 12 percent would mean we would even surpass China (currently at 8.5 percent), Lau pointed out.

It’s all about “women as an economic growth strategy.” Wow, what a sentence. Another interesting concept: “Empowering women is not only the right thing to do, it’s an economic imperative.”

From here:

If we address the barriers to women’s economic participation, we can fundamentally transform our economies.

  • The World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report shows that where the gender gap is closest to being closed in a range of areas—including access to education, health survivability, economic participation, and political participation—countries and economies are more competitive and prosperous.[ix]
  • Reduction in barriers to female labor force participation would increase the size of America’s GDP by 9 percent, the Euro Zone’s by 13 percent, and Japan’s by 16 percent.[x]
  • Narrowing the gender gap could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by the year 2020 in several APEC economies, including China, Russia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea.[xi]
  • Globally, women will control $15 trillion in spending by the year 2014. And by 2028, women will be responsible for about two-thirds of consumer spending worldwide.[xii]
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent. This increase could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent and reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent, or up to 150 million people.[xiii]
  • Women disproportionately spend more of their earned income on food, healthcare, home improvement, and schooling, which has a multiplier effect in local communities.[xiv]
  • Research shows a correlation between the number of women on boards and higher corporate profits. One analysis found that companies with more women board directors outperform those with the least by 66 percent in terms of return on invested capital, by 53 percent in terms of return on equity, and 42 percent in terms of return on sales.[xv] Another study indicates that one-third of executives reported increased profits as a result of investments in employing women in emerging markets.[xvi]

I found the data and topic really interesting. There’s lots more, and you can go here to read the rest.

And how about East Hawai‘i’s Business Woman of the Year, you ask? Congratulations to Charlene Masuhara, a counselor and Key Club Adviser at Hilo High School.


About the Hawaii Island Economic Summit

On Friday, I attended the Kona/Kohala Chamber of Commerce’s Hawai‘i Island Economic Summit.

One of the questions during an energy session I attended was whether Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi’s vision of “100 percent renewable energy by 2015” is reasonable.

I replied with some facts:

  • Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) estimates that it has 200MW of geothermal power at its present site.
  • At peak use, the Big Island uses less than 200MW.
  • Right now, PGV is authorized to produce 60MW.
  • Last time it took them just six months to get authorization from the Planning Commission.
  • That would leave three and a half months for building the needed production units.

This is doable. What we need is the will to do it.

A description of the Economic Summit:

This Summit will consist of a morning panel “conversation” comprised of five to six guest thinkers and leaders who will discuss their work, ideas that inspire them and what they see as the future for Hawai‘i Island.  Confirmed speakers include Dr. Earl Bakken, engineer, businessman, philanthropist, inventor of the pacemaker; William P. Kenoi, Mayor of Hawai‘i County; Sanjeev Bhagowalia, Director of the newly created State Office of Information Management and Technology, Robert Pacheco, President and Naturalist Guide, Hawaii Forest & Trail and Michele Saito, President of Farmers Insurance Hawaii. Moderator for this panel will be Steven Petranik, editor of Hawaii Business magazine.

Our luncheon keynote speaker is Eric Saperston, acclaimed film director and producer, successful author and award-winning speaker and storyteller. Eric is Chief Creative Officer for the ‘inspire-tainment’ company, Live in Wonder, a forward thinking experiential company on the cutting edge of communication to ignite, inspire and enliven the world.

Eric’s story:

Dr. Earl Bakken talked about his manifesto (read about June and I visiting him at his request to discuss geothermal), which includes inspiring kids to use a live cam during the building of the Thirty Meter Telescope, the development of geothermal and Ku‘oko‘a, as well as building a world-class hospital in Waimea.

West Hawaii Today wrote about the summit.


Video: Geothermal Energy Forum

Over the weekend I participated in a geothermal energy forum here in Hilo.

We have got to start doing something.

Screen shot 2011-08-30 at 9.47.49 PM

The coverage is from Big Island Video News, and it starts like this:

HILO, Hawaii: The public courtship concerning the future use of Geothermal Energy continued with this forum in Hilo on Saturday.

A large and varied panel of specialists discussed the sustainable energy that is abundant on Hawaii Island, a growing candidate to lead the Hawaii towards energy independence.

Many faces seen in previous forums were present: including Richard Ha, local farmer and co-chair of the Geothermal Working Group, back from a recent trip to Iceland where he gathered information of that nation’s use of geothermal power.

A mix of government and utility officials, and business persons rounded out the panel….

See the rest here.


Scientists With Heart & Common Sense

The scientists at Pacific Basin Agriculture Research Center (PBARC) in Hilo are pursuing their project of “zero waste.” The objective is to utilize all the byproducts of agriculture production in a sensible way.

Their funding had been cut to the bone. But Director Dennis Gonsalves and the scientists there are refusing to give up. They are doing it because they believe in sustainability for Hawai‘i.

This is Marissa Walls, research food technologist at PBARC, and Dennis Gonsalves.

Gonsalves and walls

I wrote previously about their algae-to-oil for waste papaya. They started with a test tube of a specially evolved algae that preferred papaya as its food, and it produced oil.

They started the papaya algae-to-oil trial at a 1-liter scale.

This is a short video clip of the algae on a shaker.

Now they are scaling up the process to a 5-gallon size. I was there to witness the first batch being done. First they took the papaya mixture into a special hood, where filtered air was brought in causing positive air flow out of the front. This prevented unfiltered air to come in from the outside.

1.5 live transf to 5 gal

Just before taking the 5-gallon bucket to the next room, they took a sample of the mixture to test for contamination. If mixture is contaminated by something that grows faster than the algae, they’ll know.

3. taking sample

Here is Dr. Gonsalves transferring the first of the 5-gallon batch. Note that the bucket is a plain plastic bucket. They got it from Home Depot.

Taking to grow room

Because they don’t have funding for a lab, they are using a space under the stairwell of the PBARC building. The algae functions in the dark, so they have black plastic taped to the stairwell to maintain the dark.

Under stairs

There the mixture will be constantly stirred. Instead of a shaker, the 5-gallon bucket mixture is agitated by what looks like a paint mixer.

Dr. Gonsalves tells me that they are getting batches of new evolved algae as they go along, and after a bunch of tweaking by these smart scientists, they have got the oil yield up to 35 percent. After the 5-gallon scale, they will go to 50-gallon and then to 1000 gallons. The mixing, sterilizing and dewatering procedures will change as appropriate for each scale.

I can very easily relate to that. It’s exactly what we did when we scaled up our farm from one acre to 600 acres. These are common sense scientists. I could not be more impressed.

One of the scientists is now looking into the nutritional content of the leftover algae cake. I can’t wait to see if it can be used for fish food. Just imagine, farm waste to oil and then the leftover for fish food. Sounds like common sense to me.

Dr. Gonsalves’ objective is to have real numbers and actual oil for evaluation within a year.

This project is impressive because it focuses on value to society as its end result. Many times, money as an end result goal takes us in a direction we don’t want to go. This project’s focus, and its methods, are simple and practical.

We farmers characterize it as common sense. Nowadays, that is high praise.