History of HNEI

The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute was established in 1974, a few months after an oil embargo by the OPEC oil cartel triggered economic and political chaos in the United States and the rest of the industrialized world. Countries that depended on imported petroleum were suddenly hostage to the oil producers, and weakened economically by the inflation caused by the rise in oil prices.
In the midst of the oil embargo, the 1974 Legislature quickly acted to create a structure within the state government which would oversee Hawaii's attempts to wean itself from imported oil. It consisted of three parts:

  • the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) of the University of Hawaii;
  • the State Program for Energy Planning and Conservation, eventually to become the Energy Resources and Technology Division of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, to oversee planning and conservation; and
  • the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii to serve as a field laboratory for energy research and development.

The measure establishing HNEI was signed into law by Governor George R. Ariyoshi on June 14, 1974, as Act 235. The goals set forth by the Legislature at that time, looking from a perspective nearly 40 years later, were far-sighted:
The current energy crisis is caused by a global energy shortage which will worsen through the remainder of this decade and may continue to the end of this century. The state of Hawaii, with its total dependence for energy on imported fossil fuel, is particularly vulnerable to dislocations in the global energy market. This is an anomalous situation, as there are few places in the world so generously endowed with natural energy: geothermal, solar radiation, ocean temperature differential, wind, waves, currents—all potential non-polluting power sources. The purpose of this act is to establish the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute that will coordinate and undertake the development of non-polluting natural energy sources for Hawaii . . . [The institute] will provide the needed visibility, focus, and encouragement for energy-related activities directed toward converting Hawaii's natural resources into viable energy systems. These alternative energy systems will:
 (1) diminish Hawaii's total dependence on imported fossil fuels;
(2) meet the state's increasing energy demands with little or no environmental degradation; and
(3) contribute to the technology base for finding solutions to the national and global energy shortage.
The Early Years
While research on alternative forms of energy was not new to Hawaii, the oil embargo served as a catalyst for the expansion of this field. UH researchers had conducted isolated studies of geothermal, ocean, and biomass energy during the 1960s and 1970s, based in part on the interests of the individual researchers, as well as on an underlying belief in the wisdom of replacing finite fossil fuels with other renewable resources. The creation of HNEI gave new direction to their work.
HNEI began its work in mid-1974 under the leadership of John Shupe, who also served as dean of the UH College of Engineering. One of HNEI's first tasks was supporting the Governor's Committee on Alternate Energy Resources, which had been charged with assessing energy resources and making recommendations on the research and funding required for their development.
The committee considered solid waste, biomass, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal, solar, ocean thermal, wave, coal, and nuclear. Wind, geothermal, and ocean thermal came with the highest recommendations for state research and development support, followed by biomass, hydroelectric, and solar. With the exception of nuclear power, which was not recommended by the group, all of these alternatives, even coal, eventually came to be used in Hawaii, with varying degrees of success.
The committee's recommendations were submitted to the 1975 Legislature, which responded by providing $1.9 million for the fiscal biennium for energy research and development. Much of the push for this legislation came from Senator T.C. Yim, then chairman of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
HNEI's Missions
Hawaii's energy planning led to two roles for HNEI. The first was resource assessment and monitoring to determine which resources could best meet the state's energy goals. The second was the coordination of research and development among those pursuing similar goals.
In the years that immediately followed, HNEI served in that coordinating capacity, providing seed funding to UH researchers and others for various projects. The bulk of the funding came from the U.S. Department of Energy and Hawaii state government, and reflected the then- national priority of generating electricity from indigenous sources, such as solar, geothermal, wind, ocean thermal, and biomass. The early accomplishments of the institute reflected that goal.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, and even continuing through the 1990s, HNEI spearheaded the Hawaii Geothermal Project, a university-wide effort to explore and utilize this resource. HNEI joined the UH Department of Meteorology to coordinate wind surveys of the Hawaiian archipelago and develop the base data for the subsequent location of wind turbines. The institute also established the Kahua Wind Energy Storage Test Facility to conduct wind storage and energy research. Surveys of solar insolation were conducted under the institute's direction, while researchers field-tested solar devices and systems for their dependability in generating electricity.
Agricultural experts and researchers evaluated the best species of crops, growing and harvesting techniques, and cultivation sites statewide as the basis for a biomass energy industry. Work was also conducted on biomass-derived alcohol fuels for transportation applications. HNEI launched ocean thermal energy conversion development projects, including studies on the components of these systems and the effects of marine corrosion.
Researchers in the materials program tested the use of thin films for application in the photoelectrochemical production of hydrogen, new alloys that could withstand the corrosive marine environment, and other materials for energy and ocean-related applications.
Changing Priorities
By the time of the institute's tenth anniversary in 1984, much of its research was being applied, or near application, in the commercial production of electricity: The geothermal pilot plant in Puna had proven the commercial potential of geothermal power, wind farms were operating throughout the islands, Hawaii had the highest per capita usage of solar water-heating systems in the nation, and biomass plantations were being established.
HNEI refined its research focus to initiate efforts in biofuels, ocean resources, materials applications, and various interdisciplinary programs, while continuing its emphasis on energy-related research and development, particularly hydrogen.
HNEI pioneered the resurgence of research on hydrogen from renewable resources. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the program is developing technologies for the production and storage of this promising "fuel of the future." The program at HNEI, with significant research results, has consistently rated at the top among comparable efforts nationwide.
HNEI has also continued its biomass research, primarily in the gasification of biomass into fuels, chemicals, and other products.
The institute's umbrella Center for Ocean Resource Technology was the home for the Marine Minerals Technology Center (MMTC), the U.S. Department of the Interior’s national center for seabed minerals research, until mid-1999 when federal support ended. The MMTC was charged with identifying the locations of seabed mineral deposits and developing tools and techniques to extract the valuable ores from the ocean floor. That information awaits a resumption of federal interest in seabed exploration. However, newly formed international partnerships are being formed to explore the potential of methane hydrates, ice-encrusted concentrations of methane found on the deep ocean floor.
HNEI also continues to conduct other marine-related research and development, including the sequestration of greenhouse gases in the deep sea, open-ocean fish farming, floating platforms, artificial upwelling of deep ocean water, and other offshoots of its early OTEC work. The greenhouse gas work has attracted federal and international interest and funding support, while HNEI researchers are cementing relationships with counterparts in Japan and elsewhere on floating platform development. More recent activity has resulted in the establishment of HNEI as one of two National Marine Renewable Energy Centers created by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Coordinating Resources

  • The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute's initial mandate was as a coordinator of research, and it has preserved that role throughout its history. HNEI has worked closely in coordinating research and development interests and played an important catalytic role in bridging university research with many organizations:
  • Hawaii Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism on activities ranging from studies on the social costs of energy use to the development of renewable energy field laboratories;
  • national laboratories, such as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Brookhaven, Sandia, and Argonne National Laboratories on joint research projects;
  • University of Hawaii's Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development and the Pacific International Center for High Technology Research on transferring university-based research discoveries to the private sector;
  • industry partners, such as Hawaiian Electric Company and other sponsors in specific fields; and
  • various institutions and organizations from throughout the world, such as the University of Tokyo’s Agriculture and Technology Institute and the energy agencies of Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, and the People’s Republic of China.

HNEI's research has involved faculty representing many UH colleges and departments, researchers from numerous U.S. and foreign universities, and post-doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students from the University of Hawaii and other major schools. These alliances and partnerships have enabled HNEI to benefit from innovative research being conducted elsewhere and apply this knowledge to Hawaii's efforts, while allowing others to learn from the institute's work.
HNEI in the New Millennium
Section 304A-1891 passed by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 2007 established the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) in statute, defined duties of the director and institute, and required an annual report to the legislature on its activities, expenditures, contracts developed, advances in technologies, coordination with state agencies and programs, and recommendations for proposed legislature. A summary of HNEI activities is provided in the following paragraphs. This is the information provided in the Annual Report to the 2012 State of Hawai‘i Legislature, as required by section 304A-1891.
Between 2001 and 2008, the HNEI experienced significant growth in its extramural funding from under $2 million per year to over $5 million per year. This growth accelerated in 2009, due to new or expanded programs in ocean energy, hydrogen, smart grids, and interest by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) in using Hawai‘i as a site for alternative energy testing in the Pacific region.  As a result, extramural funding to HNEI increased to over $14 million in 2009, to over $24 million in 2010, and reached $31 million in 2011.
HNEI is a nationally acknoledged research leader with major activities in areas such as hydrogen, fuel cells, biofuels and ocean resources.  While continuing to conduct basic and applied research, HNEI has, in accordance with HRS 304A-1891, also undertaken a pivotal role within the state to reduce dependence on fossil fuels including identification, evaluation, and testing of advanced energy technologies and systems aimed at reducing Hawai‘i ’s dependence on fossil fuels.  HNEI serves as the implementing and/or managing partner for several major public/private partnerships to deploy and demonstrate renewable energy systems to meet Hawai‘i’s energy needs. These efforts support the goals of the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI).
A brief synopsis of select HNEI activities follows: 
Hawai‘i Energy Sustainability Program: A continuation of the Distributed Energy Resource Technologies for Energy Security program initiated in 2006, this program, managed by HNEI and conducted in partnership with GE Global Research, the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO), Maui Electric Company (MECO) and the Hawai‘i  Electric Light Company (HELCO), addresses technical issues associated with increased penetration of intermittent renewable and distributed energy technologies in the electrical grid. To date, models have been developed and validated for the Big Island, Maui, and O‘ahu and for various interconnection scenarios. These models are being used to examine utility practices to manage grid stability and reliability in the face of increased as-available renewable energy systems and to evaluate operational and technology changes that would allow reliable operation with increased intermittent renewables energy from sources such as wind and photovoltaics, including detailed studies of the proposed interisland connection in support of HCEI.  The models are also being used to identify the impact of near-term energy-transforming projects such as grid storage, hydrogen infrastructure, and electric vehicles.
In early 2011, HNEI published the results of the O‘ahu  Wind Integration Study (OWITS), a major two-year study analyzing the potential impacts of integrating large amounts of wind power from Neighbor Islands (Molokai and Lanai) into the O‘ahu  grid through an undersea cable (known as the “Big Wind” project). The report was the first in-depth technical analysis of the potential project and the report was covered fairly extensively in the news media. This analysis provided direct support to the state’s efforts to develop strategies for the interisland undersea cable and planning for the EIS.
As follow on to this work, under HESP, HNEI is continuing the work with HECO, MECO, and GE to perform a detailed analysis of the impact of including Maui in the interconnection efforts.  These studies will begin first quarter 2012.  In addition to the technical studies, HNEI proposes to use up to $1million from the Energy Systems Development Special Fund to support additional EIS efforts.  This is being closely coordinated with the State Energy Office.   
Other follow on studies, this time with HECO, MECO, and NREL include the Hawai‘i Solar Integration Study, which will analyze scenarios of large increases in solar PV power on O‘ahu  and Maui. This study started in 2011 and will continue through 3rd quarter 2012.  In addition, under separate funding from the US DOE (via DBEDT), HNEI is examining the impact of a large numbers of battery powered electric vehicles (BEV) or fuel cell powered vehicles on O‘ahu .  The analysis will also be completed in 2012. 
Hawai‘i  Hydrogen ProgramA culmination of an effort first started in 2003, HNEI has developed funding from various federal, state, and private sources to deploy hydrogen infrastructure at multiple sites on O‘ahu  and the Big Island in support of both DOD and civilian transportation projects.  These efforts, summarized in the next three subsections, are budgeted at over $ 8 million including approximately $500,000 from the Energy Systems Development Special Fund to support a local bus service in the Hilo-Puna area on the Big Island.   
Hydrogen Energy System as a Grid Management Tool:  In a joint USDOE-DOD project (funding from the US DOE and project technical program management from the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL)), HNEI is developing hydrogen production infrastructure at the Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) electricity production plant on the Island of Hawai‘i. The project objectives include dynamic operation of an electrolyzer to demonstrate its potential to provide frequency control in support of additional renewable generation, and to provide fuel for two transportation demonstration projects. The hydrogen produced at the geothermal plant will be used to fuel fuel-cell-powered shuttle buses operated by the County of Hawai‘i Mass Transportation Agency as a feeder service to the main Hele-on bus line in the Puna district, and in support of fuel cell buses at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO).  The PGV hydrogen system is planned to be operational by the end of August 2012.  The total budget is approximately $5 million.
Marine Corps Base (MCB) Hawai‘i Hydrogen Fueling Station at Kaneohe Bay: The Office of Naval Research (ONR) has leased and deployed five General Motors (GM) Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) at MCB to enable the US Navy/Marine Corps to conduct technical evaluations and gain experience in the operation of FCEVs utilizing direct hydrogen fuel. The first five vehicles were delivered in October 2010.  HNEI has been approved to relocate the HAVO 350 bar (5,000 psi) fast-fill station, funded by the USDOE and State of Hawai‘i, to MCB Hawai‘i. Additional funding (approximately $ 1.25 million) to upgrade the 350 bar station to 700 bar capacity has been received from ONR.  An MOA under negotiation with MCB Hawai‘i is nearly completed.  Once executed, the hydrogen fueling station system is expected to be operational two months later.
Hawai‘i Hydrogen Power Park:  With funding from the USDOE and from the State's Hydrogen Investment Capital Special Fund through the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT), HNEI is the implementing partner for the installation of a hydrogen fueling station on the Big Island at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (HAVO).  In support of this effort, HNEI worked with HAVO to secure separate funding in the amount of $1 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to convert two conventional diesel shuttle buses into hydrogen-fueled FCEV shuttle buses to transport tourists at the park. The Hawai‘i Center for Advanced Transportation Technology (HCATT), a sub-agency of DBEDT, will execute the conversion leverage of their considerable expertise in managing the Hickam Air Force Base hydrogen program. Fuel for this effort will be provided by the newly funded PGV Hydrogen Infrastructure (see above).
Maui Smart Grid: This very significant HNEI-led USDOE demonstration project was formally started on October 17, 2008, with partners that include General Electric, MECO, HECO, Sentech, and First Wind, among others. This four-year, $15 million project is intended to demonstrate reduction of peak electricity demand by at least 15% through the use of advanced smart grid and demand-side-management technologies, and to assist MECO in providing reliable and stable electricity with increasing percentages of as-available renewable resources. In 2011, HNEI completed the detailed engineering for this project, initiated a community outreach effort to recruit volunteers and educate the public on smart grid technology, and began the initial installations of smart grid equipment in volunteer homes. We will finish installing equipment in 2012 and conduct the demonstration through 2013.  HNEI is also serving as one of the Hawai‘i implementing organizations for the recently announced NEDO Smart Grid Initiative, also located on the south side of Maui.  In addition to general advice, HNEI is leading efforts to coordinate between the two smart grid projects.  HNEI has also developed a new PV-Smart Invertor project (see below) that will become an integral part of the Maui Smart Grid efforts. 
DOE Smart PV Inverter Project:  In a project that closely supports the Maui Smart Grid efforts, an HNEI-led team won a new project to develop and demonstrate new “smart grid-enabled” PV inverters. This project, announced in September 2011, is intended to higher penetrations of solar PV systems by mitigating the utility operations issues resulting from variability of PV systems.
These new PV inverters will be tested as a part of the ongoing smart grid demonstration projects on Maui and another smart grid pilot project in Oklahoma.  Partners in the project include Fronius and Silver Spring Networks to integrate advanced PV inverters supplied by Fronius into the smart grid network developed by Silver Spring Networks.  Maui Electric Company, Hawaiian Electric Company, and Oklahoma Gas and Electric are the utility partners supporting the live demonstrations on their utility grids. 
Funding for the project includes approximately $6.1 million in DOE funding and almost $ 6million cost share from the industry partners.  Funding limitation from DOE in year one jeopardized timely completion of the technology portion of this work.  Due to its critical contribution to the smart grid efforts, HNEI is proposing to use up to $400,000 from the Energy Systems Development Special Fund to insure timely and successful completion of this effort. 
Asia-Pacific Energy Technology Initiative: The APET initiative, formerly named the Hawai‘i Energy and Environmental Technologies Initiative (HEET) was initiated in 2001 with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), focused on the development and testing of fuel cells and seabed methane hydrates.  A key focus under HEET was the development of the Hawai‘i Fuel Cell Test Facility (HFCTF) located on HECO property on Cooke Street. Today this facility has, in addition to ONR funding, several awards active or pending from the USDOE, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and various companies. HNEI is currently under discussion with HECO to rename this facility to highlight the renewed interest by HECO and new activities in the testing of advanced battery technology. 
In 2009/2010, HEET was expanded to include biofuels and to support testing of critical heat exchanger technology in support of Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).  In 2011 these efforts were expanded more to include deployment and testing of net energy neutral buildings, testing of grid scale Li-ion high power batteries for grid support, and, as described above, support of various hydrogen infrastructure projects on the islands.  In 2012 we will continue the current activities and anticipate further expansion to include testing and evaluation of renewable generation and power system controls for smart and micro-gird applications. 

Hawai‘i National Marine Renewable Energy Center (HINMREC): In March 2009, USDOE executed a five-year agreement with UH - HNEI to establish a new Center to facilitate the development and implementation of commercial wave energy converters (WECs) and to assist the private sector in developing Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) systems for use in Hawai‘i and around the world. The HINMREC has established industry-driven partnerships between WECs and OTEC developers, utility companies, engineering and environmental support companies, university researchers, federal and state government agencies, and other non-government organizations (NGOs). The HINMREC coordinates engineering and science efforts to address industry needs and leverage U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) interest in Hawai‘i energy projects. USDOE recently awarded $2,333,379 for the second and third years of funding (September 2010 to September 2012).  This is in addition to the first-year federal funding of $978,048.  The state’s utilities, industrial partners and the University of Hawai‘i are providing in-kind cost-share matching.
Solar Initiatives: HNEI is the primary subcontractor to MVSystems, a mainland solar energy company, for development of technology for the solar production of hydrogen. HNEI has critical patents in this field and is currently negotiating with industry for licensing and further development. HNEI is also providing technical support, data acquisition, and analysis services to the Hawai‘i Department of Education for the installation of $5 million in solar systems on selected schools.
HNEI is also working with USDOE and ONR to conduct high-fidelity resource assessments and testing of emerging solar technologies. The objectives are to characterize emerging photovoltaic (PV) technologies, to understand the performance of PV in differing environments, and to collect information to evaluate the effects of high PV generation on the grid.  In support of this effort, HNEI has developed a high-data-rate Data Acquisition System (DAS) to collect time- stamped data of weather and PV performance at a variety of sites. The high-data-rate time-stamped data provide the raw data to support analysis of the transient response characteristics due to the environmental conditions.  The initial test site, at Pu‘u Wa‘a Wa‘a Ranch on the Big Island of Hawai‘i was put into operation in 2010 with data collected through 2011.  Multiple sites and technologies are expected to become operational in 2012.
The Flash Carbonizationprocess:  Under this technology development effort, HNEI is scaling-up a UH patented process invented at the Institute for the rapid and efficient production of charcoal from biomass.  Charcoal is the renewable replacement for coal that is burned in Hawai‘i for power generation and is the biggest contributor to global warming.  To assist licensees of our patents, HNEI is now developing emissions control technology that will facilitate the permitting process so that the technology can be operated in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland.  HNEI also is exploring the use of this technology to produce charcoal from Honolulu sewage sludge, and the production of charcoal to replace coke used to reduce silica to silicon for the manufacture of photovoltaic cells.  The latter work is funded by the National Science Foundation and involves a collaboration with the Dow Corning Corporation.
Algal Bio-Oils for Biodiesel Production: Under this technology development effort, HNEI is working with various industry partners to contribute to the development of technology for the production and extraction of oils from biomass. The UH Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development (OTTED) has filed for a U.S. patent on technology developed by HNEI faculty on this topic. Two external funding streams have been secured. The first is with a start-up mainland company that is seeking to evaluate this HNEI technology to extract bio-oil from jatropha biomass. The second, funded through the Center for Biomass Engineering Research and Development, is aimed at fundamentally modeling the HNEI technology. Combined, these efforts focus on the production of biodiesel from waste streams and downstream separation processes which will be essential for cost-effective production of algal oils.
Microalgal Oil for Jet Fuel Production: HNEI is the subcontractor on a Navy Small Business Technology Transfer project for producing jet fuel. We are involved in wastewater treatment, reuse and management for microalgae cultures as well as production of value-added co-products from biomass.
Electrochemical Power Systems R&D:  Researchers in HNEI’s Electrochemical Power Systems Laboratory conduct testing and modeling to develop advanced battery system diagnostic and prognostic technology to further understanding of the performance of advanced batteries for use in electric vehicles and renewable energy storage applications.  Funding sources include the US Department of Energy EERE Office through the Idaho National Laboratory, the Air Force Research Laboratory through the Hawai‘i Center for Advanced Transportation Technologies, and Hawai‘i Renewable Energy Development Venture funds through Better Place.  Two patents have been filed for a novel sugar-air battery, which will be supported by the US Navy Space and Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) for various potential applications as sustainable power sources.

 HNEI in the Future
It would be difficult to guess where the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute will be on its 50th anniversary or beyond. Despite the changes that time will certainly bring, those who have been associated with the Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute over its history have proved to be remarkably prescient in gauging the nation's future energy resource needs, setting realistic goals, and taking the steps to achieve them. HNEI has an impressive record of achievement in fulfilling its original mandate. The institute's current initiatives will be joined or superseded by new ones in the coming years as the world changes and brings new challenges. The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute, with a solid foundation of ideas, creativity, and expertise established and nurtured over more than a quarter-century, stands ready to meet those challenges.

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