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Senator Hirono Secures Federal Funding for Clean Energy Research and Development in Hawaii

Kampachi Farms and Makai Ocean Engineering Receive $1.5 Million to Harness Power of Seaweed as Potential Energy Source

Senator Mazie K. Hirono today announced that two Hawaii businesses will receive $1.5 million in U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) funding to develop offshore seaweed as a potential clean energy source. The funding was awarded through DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) program.

“These grants recognize the innovative work being done in Hawaii to research and develop renewable energy resources,” said Senator Hirono, member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. “This funding will assess the viability of developing seaweed as an energy source, and explore how to use local resources to meet Hawaii’s renewable energy goals.”

Under the grant, Kampachi Farms in Kailua-Kona received $500,000 to develop an offshore seaweed production farm and test harvesting techniques for future use in renewable energy production.

“Marine agronomy – the culture of limu (seaweed) in oceanic conditions – offers potential for increased production of food, feeds and fuel,” said Neil Sims, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Kampachi Farms. “Using the power of the ocean’s primary production, we can increase availability of healthful food for people, feeds for fish and other animals, and biofuels for a carbon neutral planet, with minimal use of land, freshwater or artificial fertilizers. Offshore culture of limu connects innovative aquaculture with Hawaiian culinary traditions. It also offers – in our estimation – the only possible means of harnessing entrepreneurial resources to create incentives for countering ocean acidification.”

In addition, Makai Ocean Engineering in Honolulu will receive $995,978 to create a model that simulates the ocean to help researchers determine the proper design and estimate costs of offshore seaweed farming systems.

“Makai is thrilled to be selected for award alongside Kampachi Farms by ARPA-E under this innovative program,” said Duke Hartman, vice president of business development at Makai Ocean Engineering. “In addition to advancing the state of the art in macroalgae cultivation, Makai will be strengthening our expertise in technologies with many other applications, such as autonomous and underwater robotics, biological and oceanographic numerical modeling, and offshore engineering. This project builds on our 44 year track record of developing cutting-edge technologies and bringing high-paying, high-tech jobs home to Hawaii for our kamaaina.”

Senator Hirono continues to advocate for ARPA-E funding. Earlier this year, she wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging for continued funding for ARPA-E after the President threatened to slash the program by $20 million in an effort to wind it down.

Harvest of First Farmed Fish in U.S. Waters Off the Big Island Shows Promise of Eco-Friendly Aquaculture

Marine biologists at Kampachi Farms announced today the successful final harvest from the “Velella” Research Project, which raised fish for the first time in U.S. Federal waters. This harvest completes the grow-out cycle of sashimi-grade kampachi fish from an unanchored drifter pen that has been riding eddies in the open ocean, 3 to 75 miles offshore of the Big Island of Hawaii, since last summer.

“This final harvest far surpassed our expectations,” said Neil Anthony Sims, Co-CEO of Kampachi Farms. “The fish thrived in the research net pen far from shore, with phenomenal growth rates and superb fish health… and without any negative impact on water quality, the ocean floor, wild fish or marine mammals.”

The research project raised kampachi (a tropical yellowtail) in a single unanchored, submersible net pen tethered to a manned sailing vessel, in water up to 12,000 feet deep.

“This array proved to be very robust,” said Steve Page, President of Ocean Farm Technologies, makers of the Aquapod® pen. “It withstood even extreme conditions 75 miles offshore, with winds gusting over 40 knots and swells over 20 feet.”

The kampachi were fed a sustainable commercial diet that replaced a significant amount of fishmeal and fish oil with soy and other alternative agricultural proteins. No antibiotics, hormones or pesticides were used throughout the seven-month trial.

Sims reported that the kampachi reached an average of 5.6 lbs in six months, resulting in a first harvest a full three months ahead of schedule. The final food conversion ratio (FCR) was 1.6:1 (1.6 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of fish). In comparison, average FCR for chicken is 1.9:1, and beef is up to 6.5:1.

Sims said that fish health was superb throughout the trial, with an overall mortality rate of less than 2%, compared with a standard aquaculture mortality rate of 15%. Sample testing showed that the kampachi had a fat content of 33%, making this an extraordinarily healthful fish for human consumption, high in heart-healthy Omega-3s with no discernible mercury or other contaminants.

“It makes perfect sense to raise fish in the ocean, where they belong,” said Sims. “This was a healthy, low-stress environment for the fish, and we think that this allowed them to channel their energy into growing faster.”

[youtube=http://youtu.be/OPs-0LfCEq0]

These were the first farmed fish raised in U.S. federal waters and required a special research permit from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Sims indicated that this project represented a significant step forward in developing the open ocean aquaculture industry in the U.S.

The project garnered support from a wide variety of stakeholders from science, technology, and sustainable agriculture, including NOAA, the National Science Foundation, Lockheed-Martin, the International Copper Association, Ocean Farm Technologies, and the Illinois Soybean Association, which provided some funding from the Illinois soybean checkoff program.

“The success of the Velella research demonstrates that we can grow fish in the open ocean with no negative impact on pristine ocean ecosystems,” said Sims. “We must now apply ourselves to responsibly scale up this industry, to meet the growing global demand for high-quality seafood.”

The next phase of this research will test a single-point mooring 6 miles offshore in water 6,000 feet deep, where the pen can move freely in currents and still be within easy range of shore for supply delivery and crew rotation.