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Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I today celebrate, if you can call it that, my 400th posting.  Some weeks ago I submitted to the Honolulu Advertiser a rather gloomy outlook for Hawaii's future, but only because I thought our leaders were wasting their time quibbling over furloughs, layoffs and our present economic condition, when they should really be, hand in hand, preparing for our longer term future.  I guess this contribution did not meet their standards because they just ignored it.  Here, then, is Mr. Optimism, me, declaring that Hawaii is in real trouble:



The Governor, State Legislature, Unions and people of Hawaii are wrestling with a difficult, but relatively manini, crisis. The true crunch will come in five to ten years.


I've had this fear for the longest time, and everything I've seen only reinforces my sense, that someday soon the price of oil will skyrocket past $150/barrel, making jet fuel so expensive that people will stop coming to Hawaii, resulting in our economy going into depression for a long time to come.


Tourism dominates our revenue stream, and given a decade at most, it is too late to significantly diversify our economy or adjust to only elite travelers. We thus only have two options:  hope that a reasonably competitive sustainable biofuel will suddenly be made available to replace jet fuel, or a different kind of aircraft run on something like hydrogen can be commercialized to continue shuttling tourists to Hawaii.


Let me ignore renewable electricity and sustainable ground transport, for these are already being lethargically considered by decision-makers and the utilities.  At least they are doing something, and that is more than can be expected.


Returning to the issue at hand, that impending mega depression for Hawaii, is it hopeless to initiate a program now? Probably, but giving up cannot be an option. Hawaii is clearly too small to solve this problem alone, so we need all the help we can get.


Fortunately enough, we are at the pinnacle of political strength today with Barack Obama as our President and Senator Daniel Inouye as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. We also have a key partner, our military, for 75% of their energy cost is oil, and jet fuel is a major concern.


Regarding a substitute for jet fuel, if my addition is correct, I have read where the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency intends to award SAIC, General Atomics and Logos something on the order of $100 million to develop jet fuel from algae. A like amount of funding should come from the U.S. Department of Energy to annually fund basic research and development, but that remains a dream.


Here is the reality.  My trusted colleagues tell me that it will cost at least $150/barrel ($3.57/gallon) to produce jet fuel from algae, that this will take ten years, and only if we significantly enhance research support. While there are dozens of new start-ups in this field, some supported by oil companies, with estimates as low as their being able to produce biofuel substitutes for only $1/gallon, I pray they can meet their expectations.  Yet, after a third of a century dealing with this subject, I would have to side with the scientific experts predicting bio-production costs way beyond $3/gallon.


What then about replacing the current Boeings and Airbuses? Well, I actually joined the staff of Senator Spark Matsunaga thirty years ago primarily to see if a hydrogen economy could be initiated. We were already aware then that a sustainable hydrogen jetliner was what Hawaii needed in the future, and hydrogen, because it provides the highest energy per unit weight, which can be produced from renewable energy such as wind power, geothermal energy and ocean thermal energy conversion.


Well, the Matsunaga Hydrogen Act became law and the National Aerospace Plane was initiated by the Department of Defense. Unfortunately, this project remains a black program and commercialization, if it is even possible, is many decades away at best. There was a mention last year that the European Union might initiate a hydrogen aviation program, but I haven't seen anything recently.


While there are several fanciful air systems bandied about in various publications, one in particular, the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper, a hydrogen-powered dirigible potentially capable of flying at 350 MPH (none of the other blimps go anywhere close to this speed), proposed by Rinaldo Brutoco, President of the World Business Academy, I think shows the most promise. In particular, he sees Hawaii as the ideal lead for this effort. (This concept is mentioned in my Huffington Post article of December 18, 2008.)


So what of our future? The likely scenario is that substitute jet fuel will become competitive when oil exceeds $150/barrel. But, unfortunately, then, air travel will still remain too expensive to continue our present tourist industry.


That leaves the Hawaiian Hydrogen Clipper. But can it become commercial in a decade? I think not, but what else do we have?


In the meantime, to ameliorate that predicted depression in a decade, we should also start now to diversify our economy. We can't compete on traditional high technology. We do, though, have the largest ocean around us, and I can envision next generation fisheries, marine biomass plantations, marine biotechnology industries and grazing marine industrial platforms, all powered by ocean thermal energy conversion. I just saw a video produced by Lockheed Martin suggesting a 100 MW OTEC power plant in Hawaiian waters by 2015. The total package is the Blue Revolution (see my Huffington Post article of February 16, 2009).  (Again, for those who are new to blogging and such, just click on the underlined or colored items to read about the details underscored.)

Having been part of the political process in the past, I can easily predict that our leaders will continue to be paralyzed by politics and the economy, so, to give an early edge, let me provide four solutions for their consideration (and we need all four):


1. Continue your semi-wonderful effort towards renewable electricity and sustainable transport options.  No, let me sound the alarm and suggest you triple your efforts here.


2. Do everything possible to draw major corporations and the Federal government to partner with Hawaii to develop jet fuel from algae.


3. Convince Senator Inouye and President Obama to provide $1 billion to develop the National Hydrogen Clipper through the Department of Defense.


4. Initiate the Blue Revolution.  More so, ascertain that the first grazing plantship of 1000 MW (yes, 1000 MW) be operational by 2020.  Sure, that's more than ten years away, but I'm realistic, and at this point, am only trying to shorten that predicted local depression.

What is particularly fearful about the above is that I'm known to be hopelessly optimistic.  If you agree with me on the above, or, at least feel that the scenario is scary enough that it should be discussed, PLEASE FORWARD THIS POSTING TO YOUR FAVORITE DECISION-MAKERS.  Mahalo.


The Dow Jones Industrials will not change much today (actually went up 68 to 8916), oil is up almost a buck a barrel and gold dropped $3/toz to $948.


That Atlantic disturbance remains puny, however, that Invest 91 southwest of Hawaii is actually moving East, and slightly North. Huh?



KailuaKona3000 said...

Congratulations, Pat on your 400th!

I for one love all your idea and agree that we need a solution to aviation fuels. The proper feed stock must be identified and likely this is going to take a lot longer than we would like. That being said, I'm still a fan of anhydrous ammonia produced from curtailed renewable energy sources (running electrolysis and air membranes). The X-15 flew on NH3.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Guy. Keep plugging away. Without people like you nothing will get done. Aloha.