Bioenergy plant nears construction phase

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KAILUA-KONA — There’s a meaningful difference between a project getting ahead of itself and one that looks to the future.

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KAILUA-KONA — There’s a meaningful difference between a project getting ahead of itself and one that looks to the future.

BioEnergy Hawaii won’t begin construction on its privately funded resource recovery facility at the West Hawaii Concrete Quarry in Waikoloa until at least April 2018. The company won’t start taking a sizable bite out of Hawaii Island’s solid waste accumulation, which currently registers at more than 500 tons per day, until late 2019.

The waste separation and anaerobic digestion plant will separate recyclable materials from other types of solid waste, organic or otherwise. It will then process organic waste and non-recyclable materials to create renewable biofuels and electricity to power its own facility and trucks, as well as to sell back to entities like Hawaii Gas and HELCO.

Compost will also be a byproduct of facility operations.

But Guy Kaniho, general manager of BioEnergy Hawaii, said the facility will be built with the capability to handle more than that, addressing county issues with discarded tires and the Hawaii Water Service Co.’s concerns about sewage sludge.

“We can take the sludge,” Kaniho said at an Environmental Management Commission meeting Wednesday in Kailua-Kona. “And in short, yes, we can take the tires as well. The downside of that is the more feedstock we take in, the more energy we create, and what do we do with that energy? So it has to be workable for us.”

Clint Knox, vice president of project development on the facility, said if the tires were shredded and ground down, the gasification technology employed at the facility could handle the input.

Aries Clean Energy, a technological consultant on the project, developed a plant in Lebanon, Tennessee, that combines tire shreds, sludge and wood waste to create energy.

Baraka Poulin, of Aries Clean Energy, said gasification produces minimal emissions. He added that emissions were so low in Tennessee that following the completion of the Lebanon project they weren’t required to do any after-process emission controls.

There will, however, be emission controls implemented at the Hawaii Island facility.

“We look at this project as more of an infrastructure than just a project,” Knox said. “We believe that once we establish it there’s a lot of waste materials that could come in like tires, like sludge — these other things that are right now going into the landfill or need to be sent to H-Power (on Oahu).”

He added BioEnergy Hawaii is also already considering the addition of a third digester in the future that could take energy crops like sorghum or energy canes, although that would be contingent on local agricultural partnerships.

“We don’t want to get in the business of doing everything,” Knox said. “We’d like to encourage other individuals, farmers to look into that.”

Partnerships have been integral to the project’s progress, namely one with the Ulupono Initiative, created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Ulupono is a 50 percent equity partner in the facility, which presenters Wednesday said may cost upward of $60 million and will function as an 80/20 debt-to-equity venture.

Andy Naden, a project adviser, said it was Ulupono’s idea to transition to a paradigm that has allowed the project to move forward relatively expeditiously after decades of delays and setbacks.

“We have tried very hard to work within the structure that exists — originally state land at NELHA, county trash and federal funding,” Naden said. “Our partners at Ulupono suggested a plan B, that we do a completely independent business model using our own trash, private land and equity funding.”

BioEnergy Hawaii’s parent company is Pacific Waste Inc., which guarantees the facility enough feedstock to ensure viability over its first 10 years of operation — the length of the current contract with Pacific Waste.

The facility has been set up for a 40-year initial run with a 10-year option on the back end on roughly 15 acres of land at the Waikoloa quarry.

Other commercial haulers have expressed interest in utilizing the facility and up to 70 percent of its solid waste could be diverted from the West Hawaii Sanitary Landfill in Puuanahulu.

“The project is smaller, but it’s going to happen,” Naden said. “It’s faster.”

He added the project is part of a program that BioEnergy Hawaii and its partners hope eventually to spread to other islands.

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Developers also envision the facility developing into an educational outreach center and expressed interest in employing a curriculum-based model so graduate and post-graduate students can study there.

As Naden put it, they hope to create “a commerce clearing house of information,” along with a facility that will drastically decrease the amount of solid waste building up on Hawaii Island and repurpose it into renewable energy.

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