“Joule was formed not to improve upon existing biofuel processes, but to create a new and transformational process altogether,” said Bill Sims, President and CEO of Joule. “We have channeled photosynthesis, the most productive energy-capture process on earth, at efficiencies previously thought unattainable. At the same time we’ve eliminated dependence on biomass, the Achilles heel of biofuel production, and the prohibitive costs, processing and logistics it entails. The result is a new paradigm for renewable fuel production with unrivalled productivity targets that are fully supported by actual, measurable gains we’ve achieved at every layer – from photon capture through product synthesis, secretion, separation and collection.”
Joule Unlimited, which formed in 2007, was pretty much in stealth mode up until about last year. Last year they received a patent for their cyanobacterium, which the strain of bacteria that they use to produce diesel fuel. Their genetically modified cyanobacteria takes in sunlight and carbon dioxide and uses that to produce ethanol or hydrocarbons. Last month Photosynthesis Research published a peer-reviewed article that backs up the company’s claims.
Joule plans to break ground on a 10 acre demonstration plant sometime this year. If successful, they hope to be operating commercially in less than two years. But while everyone admits that the technology is exciting, there’s the possibility of numerous bumps in the road ahead. Philip Pienkos, a scientist with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), says that scaling up this technology will be hard to do. One big issue is that Joule’s bacteria produces a relatively small amount of fuel in a large amount of water – basically a sheen of fuel across the top. Getting at this fuel efficiently is going to be very difficult, Pienkos says.