Biofuels developer uses biobutanol for trans-America flight

By Susanne Retka Schill | November 03, 2008
Web exclusive posted Nov. 10, 2008 at 4:48 p.m. CST

Invoking the Wright brother's pioneering flight at Kitty Hawk, Len Johnson, president of THH Inc. piloted his home-built airplane running on biofuel from the airport at Chino, Calif., to the historic First Flight Airport in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Johnson took off Oct. 28, with overnight stops in Amarillo, Texas, and Memphis, Tenn., arriving at Kitty Hawk on Oct. 30. He made the flight using the renewable fuel biobutanol in the engine of his Cozy, a four-passenger small plane he built five years ago.

Johnson dubbed the flight "Get the Lead Out," signifying both the need to remove lead from piston aviation fuel, and as a call to action. "We believe local alternatives to the global fuel economy are both possible and practical," he said in announcing the flight.

Unfortunately, on the trip back to California, the plane encountered severe turbulence over the Ozark Mountains and Johnson was injured in an emergency landing, according to Tom Feess, THH treasurer. The plane used regular aviation fuel for its return trip. Despite the set-back, Feess said Johnson intends to continue his advocacy for renewable fuels as well as the work towards developing a renewable energy project.

Johnson's company has trademarked LookLocal as the name for its venture. Feess explained the company has patented a concept to recycle sea water used for cooling in power plants along the California coast. "We'd like to use that water for desalinization," he explained. The concept involves using a pipeline to move the material inland where there is more room for the footprint of a desalinization plant. The waste stream from that process would be used to grow algae as the oil feedstock for biodiesel. The biomass waste left after oil extraction would be used for biobutanol production.

The company started working on the project in 2006, Feess said. "We are looking for funding to do a proof of concept or prototype."