The contract to Aina Koa Pono from Hawaiian Electric Company represents a strong effort to produce liquid fuels from local feedstock. While the details are not available, several observations can be made. (Read about the contract in a Civil Beat article.)

The project proposes to produce 16 million gallons of fuel per year from 13,000 acres of farm land in Ka’u. Assuming that this fuel is equivalent to petroleum, it replaces 380,000 barrels of oil per year, less than four days’ supply at our state’s consumption rate of about 50 million barrels of oil per year. To replace all of our imported oil using this technology would require about 1.7 million acres of farm land, almost twice the total agricultural resource in all of the Islands combined.

While the project is clearly innovative, providing a badly needed alternative to liquid fossil fuels, it is important to realize that it cannot replace the huge amount of oil that makes our way of life possible. In fact, no available alternative sources of energy come close to replacing oil — particularly for transportation.

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Excel Analysis

About the author: Fred Duennebier is an emeritus professor of geology and geophysics in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.