A decision by Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) to build a biodiesel plant that will convert palm oil into biodiesel to be used by the utility to produce electricity has garnered the ire of some environmentalists, who decry the use of palm oil for the green fuel.
But this opinion piece in the Honolulu Star Advertiser defends the plant. Tom Tanton, president of California-based T2 & Associates, an energy technology and economic development firm, points out that the palm oil will come from Malaysia, a country that has committed to conserving 50 percent of its forests … much more than the 10 percent average under United Nations agreements:
Contrary to claims from the German environmental group leading the campaign against the HECO plan, palm oil is the most sustainable biofuel on the planet. More fuel can be produced on a smaller footprint from the oil palm than alternative biofuels such as corn-based ethanol or German rapeseed oil.
Palm oil is a perennial crop that can be converted to biodiesel, while other vegetable crops like soya that can create biodiesel are annual. Palm oil requires less tillage, resulting in much fewer greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. It also requires considerably fewer energy inputs to grow and maintain.
In a recent statement, HECO correctly stated “biofuels are a part of Hawaii’s clean energy future. Biofuels allow us to switch from ‘black’ to ‘green’ fuel in our existing generators, reducing dependence on and vulnerability to imported oil.”
Of all possible biofuels, palm oil is king for its affordability, efficiency and eco-friendliness. Denying the HECO agreement would hamper wider adoption of sustainable practices worldwide.
The piece goes on to point out that some domestic sources of biodiesel feedstock, such as jatropha, aren’t scalable for a plant like this one. And, right now, Hawaii doesn’t have enough other renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and geothermal, to be cost-effective. Tanton concludes that this palm-to-biodiesel plant will help the Aloha State meet its energy needs, while providing jobs for an impoverished part of Malaysia.