On a dirt road in North Shore there is an agriculture startup called TerViva. There are rows of scrubby trees descending toward the ocean and muses on his company’s future. 50 acres of former sugar cane land near Haleiwa now grow Pongamia Trees.
Pongamia Trees are more than jut a crop and Will Kusch, manager of the agriculture start up is hoping that everyone can see that this tree is the next big cash crop.
According to Kusch, ” It all comes down to the tree’s seeds, which are rich in oil that can be refined to make fuel, such as biodiesel and jet fuel, according to Kusch. What’s left of the seeds after pressing can be turned into feed for beef cattle. Even the husks can be burned to fuel electricity generators.” The company’s president and chief executive, Chris Benjamin, said TerViva presents A&B a “great opportunity” to use its former sugar lands to grow more energy crops locally.
This local startup has gotten a lot attention from national media like Forbes, which listed the company as one of the nation’s 25 most innovative ag-tech startups, and Fortune, which glowingly reported that “TerViva’s Business Is Saving the Earth.”
Hawaii’s energy policy is calling for 100 percent of the state’s electricity to be produced from renewable resources by 2045, it appears there’s likely to be a need for things like “biofuel” to feed power generators providing a solid base of electricity to supplement wind and solar. “Biofuels will play an important role in the Hawaiian Electric Companies’ fuel mix as we move toward 100 percent renewables,” said Shannon Tangonan, a HECO spokeswoman.
With this company already having big investors from non-profit companies, TerViva is a high growth potential company that could produce big returns for thier investors. The additional products it produces beyond oil: the biomass husks to burn for fuel protein meal made from the pongamia seeds after the oil is extracted. Kusch likened the potential to the model of soy producers and processors, who sell both oil and the more valuable meal, used for everything from tofu to veggie burger.
Perhaps most important thing Kusch mentions is that pongamia needs little water to grow, an important feature in a place where water is a scarce commodity and what makes pongamia most attractive is the world’s insatiable demand for fuel. If a farm planted too many acres of a commodity like tomatoes, the supply would begin to outgrow demand causing prices to drop too low to justify farming, Kusch said. With fuel, he said, there’s little chance of producing too much.
“From our perspective, the energy market is infinite,” he said.