Ulupono Initiative


A leader in the integrated biology, processes and production of cassava, and algae-based advanced biofuels.

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Founded in 2006, Phycal is a leader in the integrated biology, processes and production of cassava and algae-based advanced biofuels and bioproducts. These include “green” diesel, jet fuel, and fuel oil and low-cost sugar, fuel ethanol, and other co-products, all to be eventually produced in Hawaii.

Phycal is developing two projects in Hawaii for the homegrown production of sustainable renewable energy and co-products. All of Phycal’s biofuels are classified as “advanced biofuel” because they have less than half the carbon footprint of petroleum fuels and will qualify to produce advanced biofuel credits under the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The first project is a 34-acre pilot algae farm employing more than 30 people near Poamoho Camp in Wahiawa, Oahu that is expected to be operational in 2013. The farm will convert carbon dioxide and wastewater into algae which are then harvested and converted to renewable biofuels and bioproducts using Phycal’s patented processes. There is tremendous interest in algae as a major source of biofuels because it can produce 20 to 100 times the biofuel per acre per year compared to soybean, and it does so while recycling carbon dioxide and using non-arable land.

Funding for the $65 million pilot algae farm project comes primarily from a $51.5 million research and development contract competitively awarded to Phycal in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL). It is the largest federal award of its kind for an algae project and was one of six projects selected for funding from $106 million of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The goal of the project is to test the commercial viability of farming and producing renewable advanced biofuels and bioproducts in Hawaii. In September 2011, the Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) agreed to purchase 100,000 to 150,000 gallons of Phycal’s algae fuel oil that meets HECO specifications for testing in their Kahe Generating Station. The biofuel will be provided at a fixed price not tied to the price of fossil fuels under a contract that must be reviewed and approved by the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission with input from the State Consumer Advocate. If successful, Phycal will expand to demonstration and commercial scales and seek further agreements with HECO.

Phycal’s second project is a commercial farm and biorefinery to grow cassava and convert its starch into advanced biofuel ethanol. Cassava is a tropical shrub crop grown for the starch in its large, tuberous roots. It is extraordinarily productive in Hawaii capable of more than three-times the amount of ethanol per acre per year than corn. The farm will feed an ethanol plant to produce 50 million gallons of ethanol per year by 2016, enough to provide 100% of Hawaii’s ethanol needs, along with food and/or feed co-products.

Phycal works to leverage a combination of breakthrough technologies, process engineering, and business expertise focused on delivering energy products at a competitive price. Phycal currently operates a development laboratory and subpilot in Ohio and a research laboratory in Missouri. The management team incorporates years of experience in world-class business, biological, and engineering arenas.

Why We Invested

The Ulupono Initiative invests in organizations and companies working toward more sustainable food, energy, and waste systems in Hawaii. Phycal offers opportunities for significant impact in all three areas.


  • Reduces Hawaii’s dependence on oil for fuel by producing an anticipated 50 million gallons of ethanol per year from cassava
  • Improves Hawaii’s energy sustainability and self-reliance with locally grown feedstocks for biofuel production, while creating jobs in our community
  • Strengthens food self-reliance through production of feed, fertilizers and other related co-products

At a Glance

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Investment Area
Energy, Food, Waste
Financial Model