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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 11, 2002

Hawai'i should lead in alternative energy

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Columnist

Residents of Japan suffered severe food shortages after World War II, in part because there was no fuel to run farm equipment.

That set Hitoshi Maruyama to thinking: Oil won't last forever, but it may outlast today's adults, so shouldn't we be teaching our kids how to live in an oil-free society?

Maruyama was a youngster working on his family's rice farm after the war. Now, he is a retired biochemist and U.S. citizen with a mission.

Before the world runs out of fossil fuels, they will become more expensive. In small places such as Hawai'i, that could make them essentially unavailable.

"A non-oil-based society is needed in places whose population is not large enough to sustain their economic strength under high oil prices," he said.

Maruyama would like to see in Hawai'i a center for the study of the technologies needed in the absence of oil, and for educating young people.

Such a center would benefit not only the island it's based on, but also the local economy by attracting tourists and researchers from around the world.

Among his ideas are that aggressive use of solar photovoltaics, wind power and other renewable forms of energy can begin to replace oil-fired energy sources. Some of that energy can be converted into hydrogen for use in fuel cells, which can power vehicles and farm machinery for food production.

Plant material — biomass — can be processed to produce methane, which can be used directly as a fuel in engines or to power fuel cells.

There may be no better place than Hawai'i for this kind of work, he said.

"The state of Hawai'i is situated in a unique natural environment. It has a lot of sunlight, wind, mild to hot temperature year around, volcanic activity and is close to deep sea. These contain a readily available and infinite amount of energy waiting to be explored," he said.

He also recognizes there may be problems. Some folks don't like the appearance of windmills, for instance.

"If people have to live without any reliable energy, the scenery cannot be the main concern," he said.

Maruyama has discussed his ideas with the state energy office. State Energy Program Administrator Maurice Kaya said a project along the lines of Maruyama's suggestion is under way at the state's Natural Energy Laboratory outside Kailua, Kona.

The Gateway Distributed Energy Resource Center, now in the planning stages, would focus on alternative energy production, ocean sciences, and education and outreach, he said.

You can reach Maruyama at mhito@qtnet.ne.jp.

Jan TenBruggencate is The Advertiser's Kaua'i bureau chief and its science and environment writer. Contact him at (808) 245-3074 or e-mail jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.