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Future power source? Cattle grazing in pastures in Waimea on Hawaiʻi Island. Photo: W. Nowicki.
Shihwu Sung

Hawaiʻi Island is primed for the creation of biorefineries designed to use waste from cattle, and possibly from humans, to create biofuel, says Shihwu Sung, a professor of applied engineering at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo.

Sung moved to Hilo last year to explore emerging alternative energy opportunities that he says will benefit the people of Hawaiʻi and be sufficiently scalable to have a positive global impact. As faculty within the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management, he is working on developing a bioenergy conversion lab and renewable energy program.

“Humans so far use all kinds of non-renewable resources like fossil fuel,” he says. “[But] we want sustainability.”

Sung explains that energy, food and water security are a nexus and the three aspects are inextricably linked. Actions in one of these areas, more often than not, will have an impact on the others making it all the more important to adopt a conscious stewardship of these three necessary resources.

A future of possibilities: biorefineries on Hawaiʻi Island

A biorefinery is a facility that integrates biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuels, power and chemicals from biomass. To produce biodiesel, a process called anaerobic digestion is used.

Sung uses the example of coastal biomass-based refineries to illustrate the necessity and opportunity afforded by anaerobic digestion. Micro and macro algae can be harvested using offshore oceanic agriculture. The algae can be used for human and animal consumption or it can be processed to extract bio oil and refined to produce biogas using anaerobic digestion.

“This island [has] never had a single anaerobic plant,” he says. “We can build this entire [biorefinery] platform together.” Sung wants to apply the concept of biorefineries using waste biomass from local cattle operations to create biofuel.

He feels Hawaiʻi Island is perfectly poised to succeed economically in this technology, especially since more money can be made per kilowatt-hour here versus on the continental U.S. and heating is not required. Sung is currently drawing up a plan that he says would change the local municipal waste water plant into a power production plant.

For Hilo students, Sung will be teaching courses this coming spring on Engineering the Future (ENGR 102) and Biochemical Energy Conversion (ENGR 498).

A UH Hilo Stories article by Lara Hughes, a junior at UH Hilo majoring in business administration and a public information intern in the UH Hilo Office of the Chancellor

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