Pacific Biodiesel closes 18-year-old Maui-based prototype plant
America’s oldest biodiesel production plant has vacated the Central Maui Landfill. While continuing operations in the collection of used cooking oil and trap grease waste, Pacific Biodiesel has closed its prototype facility. Built in 1996, Pacific Biodiesel’s Maui plant has been widely recognized as a pioneer in America’s biodiesel industry and was the longest continually operating commercial biodiesel processing facility in the nation. The Maui operation has won awards from the Solid Waste Association of North American, the National Recycling Coalition and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization.
In December 2013, Pacific Biodiesel was notified by the Maui County Department of Environmental Management that continuing the current operation would require multiple permits and extensive upgrades to comply with new county requirements. Robert King, president and founder of the company, said, “With just over two years left on our contract, we couldn’t justify the costly site improvements that were required to meet the county’s demands.”
Pacific Biodiesel will continue its full range of pumping and collection services on Maui and Lanai as well as all its collection and processing operations on Oahu and Hawaii Island. Distribution of the company’s biodiesel fuel will continue statewide.
Prior to closing, the Puunene facility was providing preprocessing of waste oils for shipping to its state-of-the-art biodiesel refinery in Hilo. Now that the landfill facility has closed, the cooking oil collected on Maui will be transferred directly to Big Island Biodiesel. Grease trap waste will continue to be processed on Oahu and Hawaii Island.
“Needless to say, it was difficult to shut down the plant after all these years but we found ourselves with little recourse given the extent of the requirements to continue operations,” said King. “We are committed to our community-based model and hope to return to Maui with our industry-leading technology in the future.”
In the meantime, Pacific Biodiesel will continue to collect Maui County’s waste oils and grease and distribute premium distilled biodiesel across the state. To date, the Maui-based company has diverted more than 22 million gallons of waste from the community’s landfill, greatly reduced the frequency of wastewater spills due to clogging by grease, and saved the county’s restaurants a lot of money.
Retired Pacific Biodiesel Operations Manager Larry Zolezzi estimates the savings to Maui restaurants to be about $1 million, explaining, “The pumpers used to charge $1 per gallon to pick up and dispose of used cooking oil (UCO) and $2 per gallon for grease. As the first biodiesel company in the U.S., we changed the culture about what to do with UCO and now grease.” Since 2010, Pacific Biodiesel Logistics has been collecting UCO for free and offering restaurants reduced rates for grease trap service.