The Gas Co.’s effort to branch out into renewable fuels will take a major step next week with the arrival of equipment that will allow it to turn local animal fat and other waste products into synthetic natural gas.
The Gas Co. is launching a pilot program with an initial target of producing 5 percent of its synthetic natural gas supply with the renewable feedstocks. The company hopes to expand the program and ratchet up production in coming years if the technology proves successful, said Jeff Kissel, the Gas Co.’s president and chief executive officer.
The utility makes SNG from imported petroleum and distributes it to 28,000 commercial and residential customers through a 1,100-mile pipeline network on Oahu. SNG is virtually identical to the types of natural gas found and used on the mainland and throughout the world. The Gas Co. also supplies propane to 40,000 customers statewide via "minipipeline networks," while others are served by on-site tanks.
To hit its 5 percent production target in the pilot program, the Gas Co. will need about 1 million gallons of renewable bio-oil to annually feed into its processing facility, Kissel said.
The utility also will experiment with a variety of other renewable materials, both plant- and animal-based, during the pilot project, which is expected to last two or three years, Kissel said. In testing leading up to the pilot project, Gas Co. chemists used canola oil to develop the process of SNG extraction.
The new processing equipment being brought in by the Gas Co. next week will be attached to its existing plant to convert the bio-oil sources into materials that can be used to make synthetic natural gas.
"All we have to do is add the front-end technology to process whatever incoming feedstock stream we have," Kissel said. "We have to customize the technology to match the chemical characteristics of the incoming stream."
Ted Peck, administrator of the Hawaii State Energy Office, said the Gas Co.’s efforts are an important step toward achieving the state’s goal of meeting 70 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources and increased efficiency by 2030.
Hawaii is the most oil-dependent state in the country, with imported petroleum supplies making up 90 percent of its energy production. The state is four times more oil-dependent than any other state.
"By taking waste products and reusing them, what used to be a cost for the people of Hawaii now becomes a source of revenue. It makes sense for us as a society," Peck said.
A successful pilot program at the Gas Co.’s facility at Campbell Industrial Park will pave the way for the utility to explore the use of a wide variety of waste products, Kissel said.
Ranchers on the Big Island are burying beef tallow, or fat, because there is no market for it, he said. The Gas Co.’s equipment also could be adapted to accept feedstocks made from other waste agricultural products, such as fiber from sugar cane stalks or aquaculture waste, according to Kissel.
"I’m really excited about this. We are now establishing what might become really large-scale fish farms off the Big Island," said Kissel.
"Those farms are going to produce waste that comes into our local environment. If we can extract the energy from that waste rather than have it decompose and create issues for global warming, or have to be hauled away creating a larger carbon footprint than necessary, it could mean that Hawaii could generate a whole new source of economic revenue for our community."