Profile: Ken Bellamy
This is the Townsville man who has been hailed for a breakthrough in the biological enhancement of photosynthesis – thereby enabling plants to flourish with less water – and is also leading the charge for carbon farming in Australia and globally.
For abc carbon express, Ken Hickson sat down with Ken Bellamy in the small conference room of his Townsville business VRM Bioilogik to discuss his discovery of the true nature of photosynthesis and the implications this has for farming and food production, particularly in areas hit by water shortages.
This is someone who studied humanities, theology and practiced as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) for ten years. He was challenged to revisit his passion for the way things work in our eco-system.
All this led to the establishment of VRM in 1997 as a biotech company offering an alternative to genetic modification in the management of biological risks. VRM’s products and processes have gained respect in a range of industrial and agricultural situations since.
He also founded Prime Carbon (in 2004) as a vehicle to facilitate the quantification and sale of Carbon Offsets which directly support land management change to enhance soil quality on farms and other land. These measures for social and scientific support for landholders, has become a leading example of the power of community and business in dealing with the issues of climate change.
Ken gets intense and passionate when he discusses what he’s uncovered which seems to have evaded greater scientific minds for ages. He puts it down to being persistent and methodical. A mathematician and a chemist rolled into one.
He is not dwelling on his “eureka” moment. He is continuing hell-bent on spreading the word, building his businesses and making sure farmers get the message.
He is in demand as a speaker and for media interviews. He doesn’t give away too much. There is definitely some important intellectual property involved here.
But he is not jealously guarding a “secret”. He is letting it be known that there are some quite simple solutions to improving the soil, managing with less water, increasing productivity and storing carbon.
It involves microbes and Ken is breeding them, storing them and spreading them around.
We could go on for a while – as Ken does – as to how this really works, but suffice it to say, we know he is onto something. And you need to know that too.
Read how the local Townsville Bulletin reported his breakthrough earlier this month:
Rachel Toune in Townsville Bulletin (11 November 2009):
SCIENCE textbooks may need to be rewritten after a Townsville researcher discovered a new addition to an age-old formula.
Townsville biotechnology researcher Ken Bellamy has uncovered vital information about the photosynthesis cycle, which occurs when plants use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make food and grow.
Mr Bellamy found a group of bacteria commonly present in soils, including in rivers and oceans around the world, creates water and energy using their own photosynthesis process which can then help surrounding plants to grow.
”When we think about growing our food we can now think of two avenues to manage, not just one,” he said.
”We can have one extra handle that we can use to enhance that total photosynthesis.
”North Queensland has plenty of sunlight and green plants and these organisms are present too.”
Mr Bellamy spoke about his findings in London, Wales and Scotland during the past three weeks, before returning for a carbon farming conference in Orange, NSW, to discuss the paper.
The research opens up the possibility for the method to be harnessed and used to help plants grow in areas with little water.
About eight years ago Mr Bellamy was challenged to look at ways to reduce the nutrient runoff into the waters of Queensland by an officer from the Environmental Protection Authority.
The project triggered an interest in plants which were a major part of the issue, which led to examining the process of photosynthesis and links with the bacteria.
”Nothing grows without photosynthesis so the logical conclusion is to find better or more efficient photosynthesis processes which will create sustainable growth,” he said.
”The impact this can have on the environment is we can grow plants with much less rainfall than first thought.”
Mr Bellamy said the bacteria used heat and reflected UV rays, meaning they could survive in the dark ocean, rather than relying simply on visible light.
The research also included finding ways to incubate the organisms and develop them for use in a liquid or a solid media such as recycled organic matter, which could be spread out in areas to help cultivate plants and improve soils.
Mr Bellamy is now in discussions to introduce the additional material in science classrooms at school.
His findings have been reviewed by a team of scientists from the Australian National University as part of a commission from the New South Wales Department of Climate Change and Water.
”The bacteria are primitive – they were there first,” Mr Bellamy said.
”Though it’s a matter of contention I believe it is pointing us to where the water came from in the first place.”
Mr Bellamy’s research will be released to the public within the next month.
Here’s another media report. This one by Tony Raggat, which appeared on the Goldfish website:
It all sounds too good to be true, but perhaps in 10 years time it will be called the bug revolution that started with a small company in Townsville.
Vital Resource Management Pty Ltd operates out of an industrial back block at The Bohle near another of Townsville’s corporate success stories, hybrid toilet exporter Gough Plastics.
Basically, VRM trades in bugs – microbes that can break down wastes, enhance fertiliser and, maybe even one day in acid forms, leach metals from ores.
Already, VRM is selling its products to the aquaculture and agricultural industries in Australia and Europe.
Now the company is embarking on an exciting phase of growth, after federal and state government help to commercialise its work.
It has plans for an initial $2 million capital raising to establish bio-fertiliser factories in the Burdekin and Herbert districts and a showcase facility in Townsville.
“I’ve always had an interest in biology,” VRM managing director and ‘hobby biologist’ Ken Bellamy said yesterday.
“I was with a few friends and a couple of my clients from a previous business when we heard someone say that if you are not looking after your environmental responsibilities, you are going to be out of business in 10 years time.
“I thought that was a challenge.”
Mr Bellamy looked at ways of managing water and wastewater quality in aquaculture ventures by using organic compounds to create a natural balance.
It was the forerunner for treatments for wastewater in sewerage and septic systems in resort and national park settings and preventing bad smells in wastewater at North Queensland sugar mills.
“When sugar gets into wastewater, there are certain types of bad bugs that turn it into a bad smell,” Mr Bellamy said.
“The same type of bugs get into toilets, septic tanks and garbage bins.
“It turned out there are organisms that eat that waste without making that smell.
“We were some of the pioneers of growing those cultures and putting it to use.”
Most North Queensland sugar mills now use the VRM product in their systems.
Another of its cultures used to enhance fertiliser is now raising intense interest in the sugar industry.
Mr Bellamy said it was often forgotten that microbes were needed to help feed fertilisers to plants.
He said VRM mixed and grew certain types of microbes in fertilisers.
The results have been remarkable.
Evidence suggests less fertiliser is needed and more nutrient is consumed by the plant.
An added potential benefit is a reduction in nutrient run-off into the water table and marine environment.
The discovery has huge implications for protecting coastal reefs from land-based nutrient run-off.
Not only that, but the microbes in the bio-fertiliser were also found to inhibit the growth of pathogens, with the potential of preventing the outbreak of some diseases.
A year after showing the bio-fertiliser to a farmer, VRM is now selling five million litres and can’t produce enough to satisfy demand.
“It scares you . . . we’ve never really tried to sell anything,” Mr Bellamy said.
A Federal Government program has funded consultants to write a business plan and conduct market research for VRM.
The company is now investment ready and a couple of investment funds have shown interest.
But Mr Bellamy said that whatever happened VRM wanted to remain a local company.
Here’s a report on Ken Bellamy from the Australian Technology Showcase:
A Townsville company is selling bio-fertiliser that has less impact on the environment, is cheaper than conventional fertiliser and can improve yields.
The bio-fertiliser is made up of water, a chemical fertiliser component, organic substances and a microbial formulation. Ken Bellamy, managing director of the VRM group says the liquid fertiliser contains live cultures which help plants to get the most out of the fertiliser.
“We have to have bugs in the cycle, bugs in the product, actually live cultures in the product, whose job it is to eat the nutrient and pass it on to a plant”.
Mr Bellamy says the product is cheaper than conventional fertiliser, has less impact on the environment and can even increase yields.
“Because the gap between what is put out and what’s taken up by plants typically is so wide, we do find that there’s an equilibrium where there’s actually improved yield in a number of crops based on a more effective uptake of the nutrients”.
Based on growing demand for the bio-fertiliser, production will increase this year from 5,000 to 15,000 megalitres of liquid bio-fertiliser. Approximately five litres of the product will service one acre of sugar cane.
Townsville based company Vital Resource Management (VRM) Pty Ltd has a unique microbial process which provides targeted nutrient uptake for specific elements in Agriculture and Waste Management.
A smelly problem for one of Australia’s large sugar producers was VRM’s lucky break. VRM used its new microbial product to clean up a molasses spill in 1998 at a mill, which operators feared may have required closure for up to seven weeks. Less than five hours after VRM put is Inoculation product to work, the risk of extreme odour from the spill had been removed, and the mill remained open. The spill enabled VRM to prove the effectiveness of their patented microbial approach in controlling odour and removing sugar and other contaminants from waste water.
The products work by introducing ‘friendly bugs’ to target biological effects responsible for odour, fat build up and other septic matter found in wastes in a patented methodology. Similarly, microbes which target nutrient management and specific nutrient capture and uptake are fostered in soil.
The products are based on a managed microbial balance using Probiotic techniques and organisms which are known for their use in food and drinks.
VRM now supplies virtually all of Australia’s Sugar Millers with its Inoculation systems and products, which are cheaper than chemical-based products and more environmentally friendly and do not contain nitrates or phosphates.
VRM has since applied its unique technology to include three product lines – Inoculation programs for waster water, Probiotic cleaning products and production of nutrient management products for agriculture.
The most significant advantage VRM’s technology offers, is that it is:-
• purely Australian based
• effective against chemical alternatives
• timely unique process with effective results
• environmentally friendly
• safe for use
And for some more information on Prime Carbon, this from their website:
Prime Carbon Pty Ltd is a privately owned company and an Australian leader in the establishment of systems to produce, aggregate and trade carbon credits.
Prime Carbon undertakes the following main activities:
- Prime Carbon’s “Soil Enhancement and Carbon Sequestration Program” assists Landholders to return carbon to the soil from the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis. This program results in the creation of carbon credits which are aggregated and listed on the National Environment Registry (NER).
- Prime Carbon is a wholesale broker of these carbon credits to the market.
Prime Carbon assists in offsetting the carbon emissions of commerce and industry by linking these with environmentally sustainable farming and industry practices. Initially this involves supporting a range of technologies aimed at restoring and maintaining soil carbon reserves.
Our vision is that by 2013 we will:
- Convert at least 1 million hectares to sustainable farming practices
- Provide $1 billion pa in commercial opportunities for country regions
- Provide substantial wholesale carbon credit units for trading at a National and International level
- Be seen as the benchmark for regionally focused carbon exchange programs in Australia
- Be a focal point for on-going research into sustainable technologies