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Bacteria generated hydrocarbons: A possible energy crisis solution

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Bacteria can be useful things. Billions of years ago, they made the oxygen we breathe. They help us both produce and digest food. They even help clean up oil spills by eating the hydrocarbons.

If there are bacteria to eat hydrocarbons, why not bacteria to produce them? That's the question asked by J.C. Bell of Bell Plantation, an agricultural research group whose main product appears to be powdered peanut butter. (Huh?) Its original purpose is to follow in the footsteps of George Washington Carver by creating new uses for peanuts, and Bell seems to have come up with a whopper of a use for peanuts and other "recoverable biomass": give it to cloned bacteria that can convert it into hydrocarbons.

To this end, he has started a new company, Bell BioEnergy, to develop not only a process, but also significant production capacity. Columnist Dan Calabrese quoted an ambitious Bell in a piece last May as saying his company is poised within two years to produce as much as 500,000 barrels of hydrocarbon fuel -- per day.

If Bell achieves even a fraction of his goal, Bell BioEnergy could become the most influential new American company of the century. But there's no word on how abundant, cheap, domestically produced oil will affect polar bears.

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