The National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored Carbon Substitution and Sequestration (CarbSS) project of the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) is designed to introduce University of Hawai‘i (UH) engineering graduate students to the science of biomass carbonization and combustion, and the characterization of biocarbons through hands-on laboratory studies involving unique equipment housed in HNEI of UH and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

With the continuing eager interest in this work expressed by NSF, nearly $30,000 has been added to existing funding, bringing the NSF total up to just under $300,000.  Principal Investigator for this project is Michael J. Antal, Jr., Coral Industries Professor of Renewable Energy Resources.

The following is a summary of the students’ expected research activities:

  1. At UH the students will be trained in the operation of our laboratory Flash Carbonization (FC) reactor.  After they become proficient with its operation, they will carbonize packed beds of various biomass feedstocks (e.g., sewage sludge, Pioneer Hi-bred corn cob residues, Norwegian GROT, etc.) in the FC equipment at elevated pressure using conditions that deliver high fixed-carbon yields of charcoal.  These charcoals will be provided to our Norwegian colleagues and others as needed.  We emphasize that “designer” charcoals of this nature are not otherwise available for study.  Dr. Antal’s laboratory is constantly receiving requests from researchers world-wide for our “designer” charcoals.
  2. Also at UH the students will learn how to do proximate analysis (i.e. fixed-carbon, volatile matter, and ash content) of charcoals according to ASTM D1762-84 (Reapproved 1990): “Standard Method for Chemical Analysis of Wood Charcoal”.  Subsequently the students will do proximate analyses of all the charcoals produced in 1) above and use the results to calculate experimental fixed-carbon yields.  In addition, the students will learn how to use a Quantachrome gas sorption analyzer to measure the surface areas and pore-volume distributions of their charcoals.
  3. During the summer at NTNU in Norway the students will master the use of the NTNU micro- and macro-TGA instruments, its SEM and XRD instruments, and/or its bench-scale biocarbon combustors.  Subsequently, they will accomplish TGA studies of the combustion and high-temperature carbonization of various charcoals, and/or studies of the performance of biocarbons in small-scale combustors.  The carbonized charcoals will be examined by SEM and XRD to determine their structure, and how high carbonization temperatures affect their composition and structure.  Their results will be published as papers written by the students as part of their thesis requirements.  TGA instruments and combustors are not available in the USA for work of this nature.

HNEI’s Associate Researcher, Jian Yu, PhD, has developed a process for producing environmentally friendly bioplastic (PHA polymer) from organic residues of food processing and biofuel production.  This patented process has been licensed to Bio-on (an Italian company).  Now, the world’s first product made with this biopolymer has been presented onto the commercial market.  This product is the Miss Sissi lamp designed by Philippe Stark (see the photo) for the Italian company, Flos, and now presented by Bio-on in an innovative, completely biodegradable material to replace polycarbonate.  Contact Jian Yu for additional information. 

 The Miss Sissi lamp   (Photo:Business Wire)

Bio-on  has chosen to work with Techint Engineering & Construction to build plants for production of the PHA bioplastic using waste materials from sugar beet and cane processing.  The first plant will produce 10 thousand tons per year of this bioplastic.  For a press release on these plans, click here.


A new Project Frog classroom for teaching students and scientists

Contact:  A. James Maskrey, (808) 956-3645  Assistant Specialist, Hawaii Natural Energy Institute

 Priscilla Thompson (HNEI) & Hawaii DOE.
Project Frog classroom at Ilima Intermediate School.   Credit: Priscilla Thompson (HNEI) & Hawaii DOE.

Students at Ilima Intermediate School in Ewa Beach, Oʻahu will have the unique opportunity to learn in a classroom that is itself a learning platform.  A 1,200-square-foot, state-of-the-art structure has been installed at the school, the first of three sites selected for energy research that will test the effectiveness of innovative energy efficient buildings powered by renewable energy. The Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa is leading the research study which will analyze the performance of these energy systems for potential future Navy applications in the Pacific region.

“We're delighted to participate in and be the beneficiary of this innovative project,” said Assistant Superintendent Randy Moore of the State of Hawaiʻi Department of Education. “It will excite our students and staff on the campus to know they are a part of leading edge research and development work into creating environments that support student learning and are friendly to the planet.”

The pre-engineered test platform, created by California-based Project Frog, Inc., incorporates passive design elements to decrease energy demand, thus increasing the effectiveness of its photovoltaic systems.  The structure will be outfitted with high-tech energy monitoring instruments providing valuable research data on the performance of design and material components.

Project Frog’s design provides air quality management and thermal comfort through the use of natural convection and air displacement to reduce the requirements for mechanized systems. Optimized daylighting and glare reduction provides high quality illumination for over 95 percent of daylight hours, keeping the electrical lights off during most of the school year.  The design reduces energy consumption, construction waste and operating expense, while providing spaces that are adaptable for a variety of uses.

"We are excited to play such an integral role in HNEI's research and together advance the science and technology behind all new construction throughout the Islands," said Nikki Tankursley, director of marketing for Project Frog.

“Frog buildings are very responsive to the Hawaiian climate,” according to Tankursley. “With a small rooftop photovoltaic array, the classroom at Ilima Intermediate School produces more energy than it consumes.”

At Ilima Intermediate School, HNEI will also compare the performance of two different photovoltaic systems, one using a high efficiency crystalline technology, and the other using a newer thin film technology.

“This important assignment is part of a larger research program to evaluate energy technologies for the Office of Naval Research that includes a range of efficiency, storage, and renewable generation systems,” said Dr. Richard Rocheleau, HNEI Director.

The Office of Naval Research is providing funding for the project through a grant to the University of Hawai'i. Projects that support the Department of Navy's energy programs to demonstrate technologies that enable increased implementation of alternative energy sources and promote energy security are made possible by the efforts of U.S. Senator Inouye, Senate Appropriations chairman, to ensure that the Department of Defense has adequate resources to make these critical, cutting-edge investments in energy technology.

Project partners include the State of Hawai'i Department of Education, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa – Hawaiʻi Natural Energy Institute, and Project Frog, Inc.


methane hydrate workshop
The 8th International Workshop on Methane Hydrate Research & Development will be held in Sapporo, Japan on 28 May - 1 June 2012. HNEI organized the 1st Workshop in Honolulu in 2000 and has been a sponsor and member of the International Steering Committees of all subsequent workshops. Information on the upcoming workshop can be found at Contact Stephen Masutani for additional information.

Algae have high productivity rates, the ability to grow in a wide range of water qualities, and the potential to be produced on land unsuitable for food production.  Interest in algae-based biofuel production provided motivation to conduct an assessment of land suitable for algae production in Hawai‘i.  See the full report: Analysis of Land Suitable for Algae Production: State of Hawaii (18 MB). For further information, please contact Scott Turn.

Potential algae production lands   on Kauai – details in the report.
Potential algae production lands
on Kauai – details in the report.


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