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Bermuda beeswax could power satellites

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A plan to test Bermuda beeswax as a potential satellite fuel is just a part of a major effort to build the island’s space economy, a Government minister said today.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said the Government was working on a memorandum of understanding with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to create opportunities for Bermudians as researchers examine the possibility of using beeswax as a clean, renewable fuel source.

Mr Roban said: “We are working on the particulars of an MOU with MIT to develop a more formal working partnership with their academic community, to explore learning opportunities for students of varying levels.”

Bermudian beekeepers have already provided MIT researchers with samples of beeswax for testing as a sustainable fuel source for satellites.

Mr Roban said: “There is a movement with this next generation of space technology for small satellites that are in low earth orbit and they are using fuels that are responsible, that are sustainable and that are clean.

“One of those fuels that is being experimented with is beeswax. We are part of a larger experiment that is being carried out.”

He said the programme was a good fit with the strategy to build the space industry in Bermuda.

Mr Roban highlighted the island’s role in launches organised by Nasa, the European Space Agency and the private sector SpaceX.

He said: “We want to spin off this attribute that Bermuda has – being in the right location – to have more involvement with commercial space activity.”

Mr Roban added the beeswax experiment also spotlighted Bermuda’s beekeepers and the crucial role that bees play in island life.

Mr Roban said the island had recovered well from the collapse of the island’s bee population in 2009 caused by the arrival of the varroa mite to Bermuda.

He said: “The recovery of the local bee in no small measure must be credited to the work and patience of Bermudians.

“Credit to all the local beekeepers, researchers, and apiarists who continue the long tradition of managing and balancing our island’s bee population.

“Those same beekeepers responded positively to my request to donate a consignment of local beeswax to support Bermuda's participation in the MIT project.

“Our bee population can benefit from more awareness and our local apiarists will benefit from having the public buy Bermuda honey.”

Tommy Sinclair, the principal agriculture officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the invasive varroa mite caused the island’s bee population to plummet from more than 300 hives to less than 100.

Mr Sinclair added: “The varroa mite is probably the most destructive pest known in the beekeeping industry. We lost up to 70 per cent of our hives.”

He said the introduction of varroa-resistant bees to the local gene pool had helped to boost the population and a recent surge of interest in beekeeping had also helped.

Mr Sinclair added: “The number of beekeepers has increased and the number of hives are probably back to where it was before.”

He said that he and Albert Swan, a beekeeper, had donated material for the MIT project, but the Woolridge family was responsible for the bulk of the beeswax sent to the researchers.

Mr Sinclair said: “At first the beekeepers were a little bewildered – what could our bees do in space?

“But there was interest when they found out what the project was about.

“They thought it was a great idea and quite chuffed to think that one day they might look up and say to their children that a satellite is powered by some of our beeswax.”

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Published May 20, 2021 at 6:43 pm (Updated May 21, 2021 at 7:51 am)

Bermuda beeswax could power satellites

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