At a special open house event at the USDA Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie recently presented a $200,000 check from the state Department of Agriculture that will go toward the Hilo center's zero-waste biofuel and high-protein feed program.
PBARC, along with Florida-based BioTork Hawaii LLC, has invested more than $1 million to successfully develop an economically sustainable zero-waste conversion project producing biofuel and high-protein animal feed from unmarketable papaya. The conversion process takes 14 days to cycle in a heterotrophic environment, meaning no sunlight is needed using organically optimized algae/fungi developed and patented by BioTork.
The state's $200,000 investment will assist PBARC in moving the project to pilot scale as a prelude to commercial production. The state of Hawaii's Agribusiness Development Corp. (ADC) will become a venture partner to globally export the rapid conversion technology in association with PBARC and BioTork.
"This patented evolutionary technology is unique to the marketplace and places Hawaii in a leading position in the area of biofuel and feed research," Abercrombie said. "With this technology, farmers can turn agricultural waste into an additional revenue stream, and local production of biofuel can lower dependence on Hawaii's import of fossil fuels.
"Aside from the benefit of producing biofuel, this technology has the ability to create another revenue stream for papaya and other tropical agriculture farmers. Local high-protein feed production--another byproduct of this process--can greatly benefit cattle, hog, chicken and aquaculture farms through competitive market pricing."
The state also hopes to develop a long-term revenue generator as a partner exporting this technology. At full scale, more than 1,000 jobs are projected.
While papaya was chosen as the initial feedstock, this technology can be applied to any plant material as a carbon source. In Hawaii, other identifiable feedstocks are unmarketable sweet potato, sugarcane, mango, albizia and glycerol. Invasive trees like albizia could be used as feedstock in this zero-waste program.
"This Hawaii-based technological development is a major breakthrough that focuses on key components hampering the sustainability efforts of other microorganism-based biofuel projects," said James Nakatani, ADC executive director. "These obstacles include the high cost of feedstock. Approximately 70 percent of the cost for production is consumed in this area. Using unmarketable plant and other waste materials drastically reduces this cost driver.
"While past lab projects have not translated into robust performances when scaled up, BioTork's solution promotes rapid and dynamic evolution of microorganisms that are robust even in 'suboptimal' conditions."
Research and development funds will be used for customizing feedstock formulations to create Hawaii's zero-waste conversion technological library. The library will be available for export and sale to other states and countries. The United States alone produces up to 20 million metric tons of culled produce from which as much as 1.7 billion gallons of renewable lipids could be made.