By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
SHIPMAN BUSINESS PARK — Hawaii’s newest and largest biodiesel refinery received a rain shower blessing Monday during its grand opening celebrations.
Big Island Biodiesel, located near Keaau, opened its doors for investors to tour the $12 million plant that in a few months will begin turning fuel crops and used cooking oil from across the state into renewable energy.
“This is the first plant in the United States to run trap grease as its main feed stock,” said Bob King, founder of Pacific Biodiesel and Big Island Biodiesel. “You’re looking at the very first one, right behind us. It also can process used cooking oil, animal fats, tallow, the crop oils that we are going to grow on the Big Island and around the state.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye untied the maile strand, while representatives from the state, county and federal governments watched.
Testing on the plant is expected to begin shortly, and one investor said the fuel could be sold commercially by September.
Big Island Biodiesel is the name of the company set up to run the plant and will remain separate from Pacific Biodiesel, which is providing the technology and the feedstock, and is selling the fuel.
The plant will be able to take in used cooking oil and convert it into up to 8,000 gallons of biodiesel per batch. With the capacity to create two batches per day, that equals a capacity of 16,000 gallons of biodiesel and 5 million gallons per year.
“This is a commitment to renewable; this is a commitment to alternative; this is a commitment to energy itself and its role as a central feature of whether we can survive as a democracy in these Hawaiian islands,” Abercrombie said, and tied the plant into the larger theme of self-sufficiency in Hawaii.
Others picked up on the same theme. Inouye reminded the gathered audience about the oil shocks of the 1970s.
“We spent billions of dollars. Billions,” he said. “We vowed that this would never happen again. We spent millions in Hawaii, for example, on geothermal … and ocean thermal conversion.
“But then the prices came down. Well, we said, what? Everything’s fine now. So we forgot about the development of renewables, alternatives and such.
“I hope you listen to the governor’s words, and never blink now,” Inouye said to applause. “It would be a crime to go through all of this and then some day later say, well, we don’t need this any more because energy is cheap. No, please, don’t blink. This time, let’s go all the way.”
The festivities began with small group tours of the plant, including a 70-foot distillation tower and 30-foot tall holding tanks. There were speeches by Mayor Billy Kenoi, representatives of the U.S. Energy and Agriculture departments and others.
Kimo Pihana led the traditional Hawaiian blessing and the moku ka piko ceremony to symbolize the cutting of the umbilical cord for the building. Afterward, Inouye and Abercrombie gathered near the door of the office building to untie the maile.
On the Internet: www.biodiesel.com.
Email Peter Sur at email@example.com.