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Biofuel Breakthrough: Could the Energy Landscape be About to Change?

A pioneer of liquid fuel from the sun proves to be more productive than all biofuels processes

Joule Unlimited, a Massachusetts biotechnology company, claims it can now produce diesel fuel from the same ingredients that make plants grow. They have developed a genetically-engineered organism that secretes diesel or ethanol under conditions of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. It can be manipulated to produce renewable fuels on demand in mass quantities in facilities of any size and at costs that are competitive with the cheapest fossil fuels.

According to Joule, this could be a huge breakthrough in energy independence. “If we're half right, this revolutionizes the world's largest industry, which is the oil and gas industry. And if we're right, there's no reason why this technology can't change the world,” said Joule's chief executive Bill Sims.

While the company has only been around since 2007, it has doubled its employees and earned millions in private funding since. Joule claims they have been working to eliminate the middleman that has been making the production of biofuels so costly, making the new organisms much more efficient at producing fuel than most algae at a mere $30 per barrel.

Joule plans on building facilities near power plants, so their cyonabacteria can consume carbon dioxide waste. As of February, the potential of the company's production process was supported with the publication of a detailed analysis of its breakthrough platform. Published by Photosynthesis Research, the peer-reviewed article examines the company's advantages of producing renewable fuel and chemical production with yields up to 50 times greater than the maximum potential of any process requiring biomass.

"In contrast to research of the past, we have shown that photosynthesis is the superior platform technology for direct, renewable fuel production at the volumes and costs required to supplant fossil fuels," said Dan Robertson, PhD, co-author of the article and Senior Vice President of Biological Sciences at Joule. "The engineering of a photosynthetic microorganism to directly synthesize an infrastructure-compatible product, and continuously secrete that product, represents a landmark in industrial bioprocessing. The process technology is equally unique in that a highly-efficient, low-cost SolarConverter® system enables unprecedented productivity, as fully explained in our analysis and now being demonstrated at pilot scale."

By. Carin Hall of Energy Digital


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  • Anonymous on November 16 2011 said:
    A good idea. But perhaps a decade or so before its time. The problem for startups is that they tend to run out of cash before their markets and profits can catch up to their potential.Biofuels via gene-engineered micro-organisms will come into their own sometime after the year 2020. Everything has to come together at the right time if a promising new industry is meant to at least partially replace giant pre-existing industries which are well entrenched.

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