Alternative fuels, for both transportation and power generation, are an important component of Hawaii’s efforts to reduce its dependence on imported petroleum. HNEI conducts research, testing and evaluation, supporting the development of alternative fuels including biomass and biofuels, hydrogen and solar fuels, and methane hydrates. HNEI also conducts analysis and planning to to assess the potential for alternative fuels, including the use of LNG to meet Hawaii energy needs.
In support of Hawaii's Clean Energy Initiative, HNEI continues to conduct a wide range of assessments for various alternative fuels including biomass and biofuels, hydrogen, and LNG.
Energy from biomass has, historically, been a significant part of Hawaii’s energy mix. With the decline of the sugar industry and aggressive State goals to reduce fossil fuel usage, there has been considerable effort in the state to identify new, cost effective means to produce biofuels and/or energy from biomass. Biofuels and bioenergy products often require development of a value chain that includes production of the biomass resource, resource collection logistics, conversion technology(s), product distribution, and end use. While HNEI works with partners inside and outside the University to inform and enable development of the entire value chain, HNEI’s activities are focused primarily on the development of cost-effective conversion technologies and management of various technical and resource assessments (See Alternate Fuel Assessments, below). Ongoing work includes research on biocarbons, gasification technology, anaerobic digestion and bio-oil extraction, and the development of bioplastics and other high value products from waste streams. These activities support efforts to improve energy, food, and water security for Hawaii and the US.
HNEI is working with a range of partners to develop, test, and evaluate hydrogen infrastructure  in support of fuel cell electric vehicles and to provide ancillary services to the electric utility grids. HNEI is also conducting research to develop cost effective processes for the production of hydrogen from renewable resources including the development of novel materials and photoelectrochemical processes to produce hydrogen gas directly from sunlight and water (solar fuels ).
Since 2002, HNEI has conducted research to understand the formation and decomposition of methane hydrates for use as a fuel; and to explore engineering applications of hydrates such as for gas separation and water desalination. Methane hydrates, comprised of a crystalline water lattice stabilize by the presence of methane are found in deep ocean sediments and arctic permafrost. Estimates of the amount of methane gas contained in hydrate deposits indicate an energy content exceeding that of all known coal, oil, and conventional natural gas reserves. In this collaboration with the Navy Research Laboratory, (NRL) has been the lead on field investigations, while HNEI has focused on associated laboratory and modeling studies.
Methane hydrates (yellow color) on the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico