Alexander & Baldwin, Inc. (A&B) is formalizing a partnership with TerViva to produce biofuels from the pongamia tree, with planting to possibly start in the middle of May this year.
According to Darren Pai, spokesperson for A&B, this long-living tree from Australia and India offers the possibility of producing food and biofuels. When farming it, one is able to grow other crops or graze cattle between the tree rows. He said:
“We believe pongamia can help diversify agriculture production on Maui while also potentially addressing our community’s need for renewable fuels and bioenergy. Transitioning the former plantation lands into diversified agriculture provides an opportunity to look at growing more energy crops locally.”
Pai added that the seed oil from the tree can be used to produce biofuels, while the residual seed cake can be used as animal feed, fertilizer, or feedstock for other forms of bioenergy, such as biogas.
The company chose the Maalaea/north Kihei site on Maui for its rich soil, good sun exposure, and access to irrigation. As it has been pointed out, farming pongamia will require a drip irrigation system, with water less than the equivalent acres that of sugar cane.
As of yet, A&B has not confirmed if they would process the plant on Maui. However, it is already announced that A&B and TerViva (which has been working on similar projects in the country), will together assess the optimal logistics and best uses for the crop, which involve processing it on the island.