Creating renewable gasoline

Creating gasoline and biodiesel from readily available microbial organisms may sound too good to be true, but that is exactly what researchers at the Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa are doing. A new one-pot process is described in a recent publication by Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute Postdoctural Fellow Shimin Kang and Researcher Jian Yu.

“As we refine this process, we will be able to simplify and bring down the cost of converting renewable feedstock to commercially viable transportation fuel,” said researcher Kang.

Biomass to biofuel

There are several different types of feedstock—defined as any renewable, biological material (biomass)—that can be used directly as a fuel or converted to another form of fuel or energy product. Common examples of biomass feedstocks include corn starch, sugarcane juice and purpose-grown grass crops that can be used to derive fuels like ethanol, butanol, biodiesel and other hydrocarbon fuels.

For a fuel to be considered good enough to use in modern high performance automobiles, it needs to have a high antiknock quality (octane number) and low oxygen. Since biomass generally has high oxygen content, it can be a challenge to create a high quality fuel without using multiple complex steps under high pressures and temperatures that can result in high costs of equipment and operation. Researchers are addressing this challenge by testing alternative feedstocks and new processing technology.

Bacterial biomass and a solid catalyst

Like starch and oil accumulated in plants, polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) is an energy storage material accumulated from renewable feedstock in many microbial species. Following up on studies showing that PHB could be reformed into oil in liquid phosphoric acid solutions, Kang and Yu tested the process using a solid phosphoric acid as a catalyst. They were able to produce high quality bio-oils, a light gasoline-grade biofuel and a heavy biodiesel-grade biofuel, in a simple one-pot reaction.

“By using a solid catalyst we were able to increase the aromatics content, thereby raising the octane number, while reducing the water content in the resulting commercial grade oils,” said Kang.

With this new, more efficient, method researchers were able to achieve results with reaction temperatures low in comparison to catalytic conversion of conventional biomass. This may help bring down the cost of conversion to biofuel. With future work building on these results, they hope to develop a standard method to create a consistent fuel.

Links: See on UH News site; article on Green Car Congress

Should LNG be an option for Hawaii?

The HNEI's John Cole recently co-authored a piece for Global Island News on whether LNG should be an option for Hawaii.


"For the last few years, Hawaii has been considering the importation of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as an alternative to oil and a way to lower energy costs for the State’s residents. While Governor Ige recently came out against using LNG as a solution for the electric utilities, a number of parties still support replacing oil with natural gas in a time-limited and declining volume fashion as a bridge to our renewable energy future. Studies sponsored by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) and analysis by the Ulupono Initiative support the conclusion that a switch from oil to gas for some fraction of electricity production could both save money and reduce the risk associated with the volatility of globally influenced oil prices.

HNEI has sponsored two evaluations of importing LNG to Hawaii. The first was a high level assessment of the policy, economic and technical questions associated with LNG importation, performed by FACTS Inc. in late 2012 (FACTS Study). The second was a task within a larger electric system modeling study performed by GE Energy Consulting in 2015 (GE Study), that assessed potential savings in the cost of producing electricity with imported LNG, based on certain cost assumptions for both oil and gas."

Follow this link; to read the full article and to view other latest Global Island News content.

Work in bioplastics leads to $1.4 million contract

Thanks to the efforts of a Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute researcher, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has signed an exclusive global research contract with Bio-On, an Italian intellectual property company, representing a $1.4 million investment.   

Dr. Jian Yu’s research focuses on new technologies to produce bioplastics from inexpensive feedstocks such as wood chips, agricultural residues and domestic wastes. The bioplastics can be molded and shaped like oil-based plastics, but are completely degraded into benign products (carbon dioxide and water) in the environment.  The research will also make the bioplastics more ductile for broader applications such as films and fibers.

For that purpose, Bio-On has invested $1.6 million over the past seven years into the research, and will invest the additional $1.4 million to continue Dr. Yu’s research.  UH has given the company exclusive global license of two patents for production of bioplastics from domestic waste. 

“I am glad to have this new research support from Bio-On, which is based on successful cooperation in multiple projects over the past seven years,” said Dr. Yu.  “The new project shall promote our research on environmentally friendly bioplastics for a sustainable society.”

UH Press Release

An artist's rendition of an example net zero energy classroom. Credit: Project Frog

First net zero energy buildings under construction at UH Mānoa

On June 15, 2015 contractors broke ground for the installation of two 1,500 square foot, net zero energy classrooms. These classrooms will be energy neutral, that is they will generate at least as much energy as they will use.

“This multiyear effort characterizes the effect of usage and building design on energy demand. This is part of a larger research program intended to evaluate the performance and integration of a range of energy technologies that includes energy efficiency, storage and renewable generation systems,” said Richard Rocheleau, Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) director.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education will use these classrooms that were funded by HNEI, through a grant from the Office of Naval Research, and designed and installed by Project Frog, a California architecture company. Site work, hardscape, and landscaping are funded by the UH Mānoa Office of Planning and Facilities.

See the UH News Story and the News Release for more information.

Articles: MauiNow

New study models path for achieving Hawaiʻi’s renewable energy targets

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) at UH Mānoa, in partnership with GE Energy Consulting, has completed an analysis identifying various scenarios that would allow the islands of O‘ahu and Maui to surpass Hawai‘i’s 2020 renewable energy targets while lowering electricity costs.

The study evaluated various mixes of renewable energy generation (primarily wind and solar), different island-interconnection strategies, and changes to utility operations to identify cost-effective pathways to meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) targets. Funding for the Hawai‘i RPS Study was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy and the State of Hawai‘i via the Energy Systems Development Special Fund (aka, “barrel tax”).

Hawaiʻi Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) Study, Final Report, GE Energy Consulting for HNEI, May 2015

See the UH News Story and the News Release for more information.

Articles: BJPenn Hawaii News,, Pacific Business News, Photonics Online



Azura wave energy device off of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Wave energy device activated off Kāne‘ohe Bay

Northwest Energy Innovations (NWEI) has deployed its “Azura” wave energy conversion (WEC) device in waters off Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i at the U.S. Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) on the island of O‘ahu. The device will be deployed for 12 months of grid-connected testing as part of a rigorous program to validate the technology.

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is working in conjunction with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Navy to provide an independant verification of device performance and to evaluate the environmental feasibility of wave energy generation. The data will be delivered to the DOE and the U.S. Navy for their use in ongoing efforts to validate wave energy technology and advance the marine renewable energy industry.

Read more about it in the NWEI press release, watch the video at KITV4 and Popular Science; read about in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (subscription required), the Pacific Business News, Hydroworld, and Maritime Executive.


Fast-Fill hydrogen fueling station enabling zero emission transportation

The Hawai‘i Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) has commissioned a “Fast-Fill” high-pressure hydrogen fueling station at the Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i (MCBH), Kaneohe Bay. This state-of-the-art station was developed to support a fleet of General Motors Equinox Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) leased by the Office of Naval Research for use by Marine Corps and Navy personnel on O‘ahu. Operational since November 2014, this station was recently certified for unattended operation, allowing drivers to self-fill their cars just as they would do at any gasoline fueling station. Unattended operation will serve as a model for the installation of private stations throughout the state.

See the UH News story and the press release for more information.

Articles: NGT News, Green Fleet


HNEI to study electrical grids at three Hawaii naval bases

The Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii (ARL/UH) has received a $2.5 million contract from the Office of Naval Research to address electrical grids at three naval bases in Hawaii.  ARL/UH has funded HNEI to help develop a modernization and action plan to meet the Navy's future needs in Hawaii.  The work will be conducted by HNEI's Grid System Technologies Advanced Research Team (GridSTART).  For more information, contact Leon Roose, GridSTART Principal and Chief Technologist.  For details, see the University of Hawaii news release.


An aerial view of the USS Arizona and USS Missouri Memorials at Ford Island, Joint Base Pearl Harbor


Navy expands investment at wave energy test site

Work at the Wave Energy Test Site (WETS) located off Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kāneʻohe has received an infusion of $9 million from the U.S. Navy. The funds, from the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), are directed to the Applied Research Laboratory at the University of Hawai‘i (ARL/UH), working with UH Mānoa’s Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI), to support industry testing of wave energy conversion devices. The Kāneʻohe site will be the first wave energy test site in the United States connected to an active power grid. (July 21, 2014)
To find out more, please download the press release.

Hydrogen-powered Buses Coming to Big Island

Hawaii Island could be less than a year away from having some of the first hydrogen-powered buses in the state on its roadways. As part of a pilot project spearheaded by the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, three shuttle buses will be converted to hydrogen power. Two will be provided to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, while the third goes to the Hawaii County Mass Transit Agency, also known as Hele-On.  (June 24, 2014.)

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