A Maui company is gearing up to harvest its first sunflower biofuel crop.
Pacific Biodiesel Technologies is cultivating a 14-acre sunflower field as part of an initial 115-acre crop project site dedicated to growing combine-harvested oil crops on land previously used for sugar cane production.
“The major bloom is now over and the plants next will dry down for harvest. People are already noticing that the flowers are starting to droop over and turn brown,” said Bob King, Pacific Biodiesel president and founder. “When the flowers have fully matured and dried, which will happen in another three or four weeks, they will be ready for harvest.”
A second crop of sunflowers was planted last week, and is expected to bloom in June.
This is currently the largest biofuel crop project in the state, and the only biofuel farming operation in the state running on 100-percent renewable fuel.
In addition to sunflowers, the company is looking to grow safflower, canola, and chickpeas.
“There’s a lot of pieces of components that go together here,” King said, “so for food we’re looking at directly with the oil seed crops, making cooking oil, which Hawaii uses several million gallons a year, and if we can supply a good chunk of that, we can still get the oil back from the restaurant to make fuel out of, but also there’s the rest of the plant — the meal that comes after you press the oil. The meal is a food and also animal feed.”
The company also reminds the public that it is a working farm. The first batch of blooming sunflowers drew large crowds to its fields.
“Just almost everybody was so good and careful and attentive, but it got to where we were truly worried for safety of people,” King said. “This isn’t a tourist attraction. It’s a farm, so people were stopping at the side of the road and we saw some situations that were not good for safety.”
No trespassing signs have been put up to keep the public safe.