An Introduction to NELHA

The Friends of NELHA building... It provides all its own energy and uses a copper roof to keep the building cool

The best part of today: Sleeping in. That’s right, we weren’t able to get in for a tour until 1pm, so we got to sleep in until 10am – what a blessing. This was followed by a briefing about NELHA, the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority. There they found out that they can gather energy using the cool deep-sea water and the warm surface water to react together to condensate and create steam energy. It’s a long, complicated process that I would rather not go into detail about here.

Once learning about that we drove to the headquarters of the Friends of NELHA which is housed in a LEED Platinum building. For more information on what that means, click the link. Here we heard about the many different projects NELHA is helping out such as researching solar energy, aiding the cold-water aquaculture in Hawai’i as well as many other projects. For instance, did you know that Maine lobster are mostly grown in Hawai’i now? Due to near-extinction of the lobster population in Maine, they sent broodstock to Hawai’i and they now breed them there. They also grow abalone, shrimp, oysters (that Washington state helps out in) and blue-green algae for hippies. Okay, other people consume it as well, but the guy told us that hippies are the biggest market. It’s known for being basically the modern “manna.” This means that a human being could actually live only on blue-green algae if they had to. He referenced Soylent Green and how blue-green algae is the better alternative to that… cannibalistic food.

The group learning about Analemma, the cycles of the sun as it travels the sky throughout the year

We also got to go over to the solar energy research facility. Here we learned about Analemma and how the plant was run. I got a little lost in the technical aspects of how the engines worked, but the way the solar plant works is there are long troughs of mirrors that focus the sun’s rays onto a collector beam made out of stainless steal and encased in glass. The glass is filled with mineral oil that is the ideal heat transport material due to the fact that it cannot freeze or turn into steam. It also can last up to 30 years without having to be replaced. Currently this plant doesn’t produce very much energy, nor is it very efficient, but that is why it is a research facility. It does, however, provide 100% of the energy needs for the plant and all leftover energy is put into the main grid for the island.

The Mahalo Hawaii Deep Sea Water bottling room

We also got the chance to visit the Mahalo Hawaii Deep Sea Drinking Waterbottling plant. Here they use some of the cold deep-sea water that is pumped up from 3,000 ft. below sea level, desalinate it then add back in some of the salt and minerals that were taken out to give it a distinctive taste. They then ship it to Japan where they have the largest market. They also, just today, sent some cases to California. You can only buy this water by subscribing and ordering a 12-bottle case. Each 1.5L bottle costs seven dollars in Japan. We were given a 24 oz. bottle and a .5L bottle so we could try the water. Personally, I don’t see what the hubbub was about. It just tasted like water. But it was cool to see how the plant worked.

Tomorrow we are going to visit where they grow the algae and get some time to learn a little bit more about the rest of NELHA.

We had a bit too much fun in downtown Kona after our tours of the day


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