Hawaii's sugar growers are putting new emphasis on their...

HONOLULU -- Hawaii's sugar growers are putting new emphasis on their century old practice of burning cane waste for fuel.

This alternative energy source is bagasse, the sawdust-like remnant of sugar cane after nearly all the sugar and much of the moisture have been extracted. Burning a ton of it saves a barrel of oil.


In 1978, according to the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, the local sugar industry burned 2.7 million tons of bagasse for fuel, both for industry consumption and for commercial use. That was 2.7 million barrels of oil saved, enough to power 63 percent of industry needs.

The figure could be higher if it were not for the fact that sugar is seasonal and plantations must shut down for annual overhauls. In that case, to keep irrigation pumps going, the sugar growers buy power from local oil-burning utilities on each sugar cane-growing island.


Conversely, when the sugar mills are operating, so much bagasse is produced that eight of the 16 plantations in 1978 disposed of their excess bagasse, about 96,000 tons, while the other eight burned up all they had or sold their extra electricity _ 187 million kilowatt-hours _ back to the utilities.

One sugar company is contesting the low rates utilities pay for bagasse-generated electricity before the state Public Utilities Commission.

While the sugar companies are the biggest electrical consumers on the neighbor islands, particularly on the islands of Kauai and Hawaii, they also are its largest producers. On Kauai, the sugar industry uses about half of the power generated on the island, and puts back a little more than what it uses. On Hawaii, sugar plantations consume about 28 percent of that island's electricity but they generate more than a third of the island's power.

It is on Kauai that the latest and most expensive bagasse-burning investment has been made by a major sugar grower. Amfac, in conjunction with the Foster Wheeler Co. of New Jersey, is completing a $25 million boiler facility at its Lihue plantation.

According to Bill McCraw, plantation manager, the new boiler will be able to handle fuel oil as well as bagasse, and will increase the island's power generation by 20 percent, or 12,000 kilowatt-hours.


He says the 'potential is there' for sugar cane to be possibly raised mainly for its energy value rather than just for its sugar.

'If it comes to the day when energy is going to give a better return (than sugar), we may go with energy,' he said. ___= McCraw said 'sugar cane is probably the fastest regenerative fuel in the world.' Some plants under consideration as fuel sources such as the eucalyptus tree, require a seven- to eight-year maturation period. Sugar, on the other hand, is harvested nine months of the year.

At current prices, sugar is close to $600 a ton. Ed Lui, director of environmental affairs for the sugar planters association, noted that when oil prices began their upward spiral a few years ago and sugar prices were depressed at around $240 a ton, local growers gave serious thought to sugar production 'mainly for energy.'

But, Lui said, 'Bagasse is too bulky for storage and extremely expensive to compact.'

Because it is difficult to transport, bagasse has to be burned at the plantation.

'Building a boiler is a hefty capital investment,' acknowledged Kevin Doyle, public affairs spokesman for Hawaiian Electric Co.

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