A new crop on Maui's old sugarcane land could help create renewable energy

A new crop on Maui's old sugarcane land could help create renewable energy
(Image: TerViva)
(Image: TerViva)

KIHEI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new energy crop will soon be tested on former sugar plantation lands in Central Maui. Alexander & Baldwin is teaming up with a California-based business to grow pongamia trees on 250 acres near Kihei.

The California-based business created a commercial orchard near Haleiwa almost two years ago after a small pilot project in Kunia yielded a bountiful harvest of seeds containing oil, according to a spokesperson.

"The actual crop that we harvest from pongamia is very similar to soy, except that we get 10 times the amount of oil per acre and three times the amount of plant protein per acre," explained TerViva manager William Kusch.

TerViva estimates the trees can produce more than 400 gallons of oil per acre, which can be used to create biofuels. The first trees on A&B property are expected to be planted later this summer.

"We've looked at potentially growing this out to up to 2,500 acres. We think there's enough of a market, enough of a demand, and we have the land that's suitable to grow this crop," said Rick Volner Jr., A&B's general manager of diversified agriculture.

TerViva said pongamia is a drought-tolerant crop that can still thrive with only small amounts of water.

"We have demonstrated that we can make biodiesel, we can make jet fuel out of the that oil we produce, and from the plant protein that we make, we have already formulated beef cattle feed," Kusch said.

The test project is part of A&B's plans to transition the former 36,000 acre plantation into diversified agriculture, including food crops and cattle.

"We currently have almost 4,000 acres that have been converted to improved pasture: fencing, irrigation, watering systems. We have a large amount of acreage that has been put into bio energy research and development, so crops such as corn, sorghum, soybeans," Volner said.

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