The true answer to sustainability through renewable energy might not come to Molokai in the form of giant windmills or even vast arrays of solar panels.
The real solution to the problem of economic stability and energy security may lie in the hard shell of the kukui nut.
Wayde Lee —a lifetime Molokai resident, farmer and substance abuse family counselor — has created a project called Molokai Sustainment Farming. This project is designed to provide economic recovery by stimulating and revitalizing farming through the production of environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel. Information on this project was available at the second annual Molokai Ag Country Fair held May 1 in Hoolehua.
According to Lee, Molokai spent over $9.1 million to import diesel fuel in 2008 and averages over $6.6 million a year for the fuel used to power the Maui Electric Company generating plant. The MSF project hopes to establish a local market for biodiesel that will avoid the penalization of interisland taxation and transportation fees that farmers now endure.
Most importantly, it will put Molokai farmers back to work using the infrastructure that already exists. This project offers an opportunity for farmers to grow, harvest and distribute vegetable products for Molokai’s own sustainability.
While the MSF project will accept a variety of oil-producing plants such as sunflowers, peanuts and soybeans, the kukui nut will be the signature product. Byproducts from the manufacturing process of biodiesel will have marketable properties such as vegetable oils, kukui nut oils, glycerin and livestock feed.
Biodiesel is a clean burning alternative fuel source that can be used in diesel engines with little or no modifications. It can also be blended with petroleum diesel as well. The fuel is simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic and is essentially free of sulfur and aromatics.
Lee said he is planting 40 acres of kukui over the next two months and will eventually have over 200 acres. He said they are partnering with others on Molokai to plant a total of 600 acres. Once established, this project will be able to yield $1,000 to $2,000 per acre for local farmers.
Until the funds are available to build silos and a plant for crushing and processing the nuts, the MSF will be working with Hawaii Biodiesel for these services.
For Lee, sustainability is about more than money. With only a 33 day supply of diesel in storage on Molokai, this project could literally help keep the lights on in the event of an interruption in barge service. He also sees this as a way to help us produce our own food and medicine, which, says Lee, is the “first priority.”
To get the project started, Lee is trying to build trust and support with the Molokai farmers and the community. Once a positive consensus for the project is established, Lee plans to assist the agricultural infrastructure for participating farmers.
The project will then need money to invest in a crusher for extracting the oil. Ensuring a stable and consistent feedstock for sustaining Molokai is also crucial during this phase of the project.
The last piece of the project is to create a biodiesel manufacturing process here on Molokai that can be responsive to the local needs. The proposed site is near the current MECO Molokai electric plant.
“We have to be honest and open to the island and let the community know what we are doing,” said Lee.
Lee has kept this project a family affair. He is working with his sister Wanette, brother Wescott and cousin Benson to make it possible.
For more information, contact Wayde Lee, 567-6368; Wanette Lee, 553-3093; Benson Lee 808-455-4387 (on Oahu); or Wescott Lee, 808-448-8445 (on Oahu).