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Firm seeks Hawaii land for eucalyptus-based biofuels

The minty-scented eucalyptus tree is becoming a favorite of more than just koalas, as one Hawaiian firm is eyeing the plants as a potential fuel source.

SunFuels Hawaii says it’s looking to lease thousands of acres of state and private land on the Big Island to establish plantations of eucalyptus and other plants to be converted into biodiesel. The company also plans to build a refinery on the island to process the biomass it will grow.

SunFuels manager John Ray told the Honolulu Advertiser his firm eventually hopes to produce 11 million to 13 million gallons of biodiesel per year on the island. That’s about as much as island motorists currently consume on an annual basis.

Once the necessary land is leased, SunFuels would need about eight to 10 years to be ready to start producing biodiesel.

To make the project viable, though, it would also need for oil prices to start tracking upward again. At current prices, Ray told the Honolulu Advertiser, the biomass-to-diesel process would actually cost more than importing regular oil to Hawaii.

Eucalpytus makes an appealing choice for biomass, as it is not only quick growing but sprouts back again after being cut down. There are a few negatives, though: the tree consumes lots of water and is also highly flammable (good during the biomass-to-fuel conversion process, bad while on the plantation).

The state’s Board of Land and Natural Resources is expected to meet this Friday to decide whether to grant SunFuels a 50-year lease to 37,000 acres of state land.

If that approval is granted, SunFuels will then need to start planting … and start banking on Peak Oil rearing its head in the coming decade.

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