A project trumpeted as a potential solution to America’s energy needs is on the verge of taking off with the U.S. military, but government bureaucracy is causing frustrating delays and a chokehold on funding, raising out-of-pocket expenses for the company spearheading the technology.
Bell Bio-Energy of Tifton, Ga., has developed a groundbreaking process that rapidly converts virtually anything that grows out of the Earth into all sorts of hydrocarbon fuel – from gasoline and diesel, to home heating oil and jet fuel for fighter aircraft such as the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets.
An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the Diamondbacks of Strike Fighter Squadron 102 launches off the aircraft carrier USS George Washington. The Navy hopes to augment its fuel supply for Super Hornets with renewable biofuel and has dubbed its upcoming Earth Day test flight “The Green Hornet.”. (Navy photo / Marcos Vazquez)
His method involves genetic manipulation to change naturally occurring bacteria, so they eat and consume biomass more quickly and efficiently, breaking down waste material from crops into usable energy.
Naturally occurring bacteria used to convert biomass into fuel.
“There’s certainly nothing from a basic science point of view that’s
wrong with the idea,” said Dr. Charles Krauter, a soil and water professor
at California State University at Fresno familiar with Bell’s technique. “Obviously the process
worked. He’s just doing it in an artificial enviroment and speeding it
up. They’re not doing anything that natural microbes haven’t been doing
for 100 million years.”
Since WND first reported on the project in 2008,
Bell has sought the federal government’s help in expanding the process on a huge scale.
Last year, he teamed up with the U.S. Army for a demonstration plant at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and said results were a complete success.
“We’ve proven it. There’s nothing else left to prove,” he said. “Now all we have to do is build bigger plants.”
With that in mind, the next target is a joint project with the U.S. Navy that could mean an enhanced supply of jet fuel for America’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, created from the non-edible residue of California’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.
“We’re looking at putting a full-scale production facility in the San Joaquin Valley,” Bell said.
The valley, located in the heart of the Golden State, is considered one of the most fertile sections of the U.S.
“What they produce is mile after mile of vineyards for wine, grapes and grape juice,” said Bell, “and mile after mile of almond groves and pistachio and pecan groves. All of those things have to be trimmed every year. That’s the biomass waste they’re producing every year.”
Krauter at Fresno State is impressed not only by Bell’s actual process, but also the portable scale that could benefit that vast geographic area of the San Joaquin Valley.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the Argonauts of Strike Fighter Squadron 147 breaks away from the formation over the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.The Navy is testing biofuels in its aircraft to augment its energy supply. (Navy photo / Josue L. Escobosa)
“His [technology] appears to be one of the first that makes the basic scientific principle practical on a scale that makes sense to solve our ag-waste problems,” Krauter said. “Because of our air-quality regulations, you can’t put it in piles and burn it, which is what people have done for decades. That’s illegal now. … You can park one [of Bell's processors] and collect the crop residue from a 10-mile radius and generate fuel that way.”
California estimates some 900 million tons of biomass is produced annually from the region, and instead of hauling it away to clog up landfills or adding more carbon to the atmosphere by incineration, Bell says America would create jobs and energy by converting it into fuel.
“We have a zero carbon footprint. That’s darn good!” Bell exclaimed. “A lot of the politicians and environmentalists, what they want to do is take a gun and force people to do things. Our goal is to use common sense to come up with practical solutions.”
The Navy confirms it has been looking at a variety of biofuel ideas
in recent months, and plans to expand its research imminently, having already tested some fighter-aircraft engines in the afterburner mode with fuel derived from produce.
doing more testing and certifying, and we’re planning on flying a Super Hornet on Earth Day, April 22,” said Chris
Tindal, the acting deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for energy.
“We’re actually calling it the ‘Green Hornet,’” an ecological play on the
On Jan. 21, a memorandum of understanding will be announced between the U.S. secretary of agriculture and secretary of the Navy, as they team up to accelerate research on biofuel production.
“This is not a wait-and-see kind of thing,” said Tindal. “We’re doing active research on it, because it is so important. … There’s a lot of optimism for biofuels. I don’t see it as being a flash in the pan.”
He noted 75 percent of the Navy’s power supply is operational energy for ships and planes, with 25 percent for shore installations, such as bases and buildings.
According to IEEE Spectrum magazine, of the $13 billion the military spent on energy in fiscal year 2007, more than half went to jet fuel, which is used by aircraft, some battle tanks, and the occasional generator. The Defense Department’s 577,000 buildings account for one-fourth of its energy use.
He expects costs to drop dramatically once done on a large scale, and stressed the department wants organically grown energy to be flight-ready.
“We want a drop-in fuel,” he said. “We don’t want to do any engine reconfigurations at all.”
J.C. Bell has been at the forefront of food innovation for years, heading up development of products at Bell Plantation such as powdered peanut butter – commercially marketed as PB2 and Chocolate PB2 – as well as Roasted Peanut Oil. Sales of these products have funded Bell’s biofuel project thus far.
Cain, an author who also writes a weekly column for WND, says “there is no doubt in my mind that this is a very viable solution in a big way.”
“We need to stop sending billions of dollars overseas to oil countries that do not like us,” Cain said. “This process has the potential to replace at least a third of our daily energy needs … from totally renewable resources. You don’t use corn. You don’t use food. You use waste.”
Cain is hoping to join Bell this fall on a cross-country radio tour,
visiting dozens of cities in vehicles powered by the renewable fuel
from Bell’s process.
Energy pioneer J.C. Bell, head of food processor Bell Plantation of Tifton, Ga., was profiled in February 2008 in Vintage Lifestyle magazine in an article titled, “Mad Scientist … or Inventor Extraordinaire?” (Click photo to read the article in a pdf file)
Both Cain and Bell have been frustrated, though, by the creeping pace at which federal officials have heretofore been moving on the technology.
“We have been slowed down because of not being able to get through the bureaucracy of the government not living up to the commitments they made,” said Cain.
For instance, the initial contract Bell had with the Department of Defense for demonstration plants expires tomorrow.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Bell admitted.
As part of last year’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan, Bell’s project was supposed to be appropriated more than $7 million from the Defense Department, but Bell says all expenses thus far have been paid by his own company.
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Defense Department had appropriated more than $7 million for Bell Bio-Energy’s partnership with the Army at Fort Stewart, Ga., and other locations. But project leader J.C. Bell says his firm has not seen a penny from the U.S. government, and will have spent more than $6 million of its own funds to keep the renewable-energy initiative alive. (Source: Defense Department report to Congress, March 2009)
“So far, we haven’t gotten a penny,” he told WND. “The original research and development costs to get to the stage that was needed for the DoD, we spent about $2.5 million. To build and operate the unit for Fort Stewart, we have spent about $1.7 million. We will spend about $2 million for the project out in the San Joaquin Valley. So we are in over $6 million of our own money.”
Regarding the toll the financial situation has taken on him personally, Bell joked, “I used to look like a 20-year-old poster boy. Now I’m old and wrinkled and bald.”
He also notes the government has gone out of its way to prevent this project from receiving publicity.
“While it was operating at Fort Stewart under contract, it was kept low key at the request of the military,” he said. “It made me extremely irritated.”
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