If you think that the fuel industry and the beauty industry would land pretty far apart from each other on a map of the economy, you’re probably not alone.
But the Hawaii-based company Pacific Biodiesel encompasses both–and the way it’s able to all comes down to the idea of sustainable sourcing.
Bob and Kelly King founded Pacific Biodiesel in Hawaii in 1995 in response to a concerning issue: the volume of used cooking oil that was being dumped into a landfill in Maui. Bob, who at the time owned the company that ran the landfill’s generators, proposed recycling the used cooking oil into fuel to power the generators. To carry out that idea, the company built one of the first commercially viable biodiesel plants in the U.S. to treat the oil. “We wanted to make a cleaner local energy supply,” Bob says.
Since then, Pacific Biodiesel has continued to treat and convert cooking oil to fuel, but in the last couple of decades, demand for more renewable fuel sources has skyrocketed. To continue to meet it, the Kings began looking to alternative natural fuel sources, and found it in crops grown by local farmers. They began sourcing crops like jatropha (a flowering shrub), safflower, kukui, and soybean, and crushing them to extract oil in a nearby mill. Everything they source is non-GMO and grown without chemicals. “When we first told people we were going to be turning crops into fuel, they said ‘Oh, that’s great—you can use all the chemicals you want,'” Bob says. But they wanted to source only human-grade crops to encourage more sustainable growing practices in Hawaii.
In 2015, Bob and Kelly noticed that local macadamia nut processors often discarded excess or imperfect nuts, and they offered to buy them from the macadamia companies to add them to their biofuel mix. In researching about the properties of the macadamia nut, Bob tells Fast Company, they learned of its many benefits as an ingredient in hair and skin products. To ensure that none of the macadamia oil went to waste, Pacific Biodiesel incorporated a separate brand, Maiden Hawaii Naturals, to create another avenue for the oil it produces. Maiden Hawaii Naturals, in addition to producing oils that are sold directly to cosmetics manufacturers, also supplies Kuleana Beauty, a company that Pacific Biodiesel launched in 2018. Kuleana makes products like cleansers, sunscreen, and oils from macadamia nuts, kukui, avocado, coconut, and sunflower. Maiden Hawaii Naturals also produces culinary oils for chefs–completing the circle of Pacific Biodiesel’s founding mission.
With the continued enthusiasm for natural oils in the fuel, beauty, and culinary sectors, Pacific Biodiesel ventured into supplying its own demand in 2017. The company planted sunflowers on a 115-acre former cane field, and now source the oil directly from their own crops. Sunflowers, Bob says, were the ideal crop for Pacific Biodiesel to begin to cultivate themselves, as they grow quickly, regenerate soil damaged by years of pesticide-intensive cane farming, and produce an oil that can be used in a variety of products. But in keeping with the times, the company will be launching a commercial hemp-growing operation–Maui’s first–this year. The hemp oil will be incorporated into Kuleana products and distributed to other buyers through Maiden Hawaii Naturals.
If someone had told Bob and Kelly in 1995, when they founded Pacific Biodiesel, that they’d one day be growing commercial hemp for a beauty venture under that same corporate umbrella, they might have thought they were crazy. But there’s something to be said for the diverse utility of sustainable, natural crops. Not only do biodiesel crops grown without pesticides offer a more sustainable fuel option, they also can offer suppliers, like the Kings, other, unexpected economic avenues to support their mission to green the fuel supply.