Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie was at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center (ARS-PBARC) in Hilo to present the facility with a $200,000 check from the state Agriculture Department.
This unusual sight of a state official awarding funds to a federal facility underlines the value of the program in question – a sustainable zero waste conversion project that has the capability to turn unmarketable papaya into high protein animal feed and biofuels.
The system was developed by PBARC in partnership with BioTork Hawaii LLC, which is based in Gainesville, Florida. PBARC has already invested more than a million dollars into the project.
The $200,000 state investment is meant for use in shifting the program from the lab to a pilot project and then towards commercialized production.
With this investment, the State of Hawaii’s Agribusiness Development Corporation (ADC) joins PBARC and BioTork Hawaii LLC as a venture partner for the global export of this conversion technology, where a microbial strain was able to break down papaya culls into oil and animal feed in 14 days in a heterotrophic process which does not require sunlight.
Tom Lyons, chief science officer of BioTork, explained that papaya culls were used for the project because of its large-scale availability in Hawaii. He added that the objective was to demonstrate that the same approach will work on all industrial and agricultural by-products to create high protein meals for animals along with renewable energy in the form of biofuels.
Apart from the pilot project, PBARC is also working on developing a number of different microbial strains that can convert specific industrial and agricultural waste products.
Gov. Abercrombie said this technological capability would give Hawaii an edge in feed research and biofuels. Local farmers would be able to convert waste into additional revenue, and at the same time reduce Hawaii’s dependence on fossil fuels and animal feed imported from the mainland.
Papaya farmers and others who use huge amounts of unmarketable tropical foods directly as feedstock will improve their bottomlines by using this technology or selling the feedstock to others who do. Apart from this direct local impact, initial estimates suggest that full-scale export of this technology will create another 1,000 new jobs in Hawaii.
The technological impact on a nationwide level could be huge if PBARC can successfully scale the project up to sustainable and large-scale commercial production. The U.S. produces 20 million metric tons worth of culled produce, which the PBARC-Biotork technology could convert into 1.7 billion gallons of renewable lipids.