Alternative Energy

Published on November 18th, 2009 | by Derek Markham


Breakthrough Technology Converts CO2 to Ethanol without Biomass

Producing fuel out of thin air sounds like a pipe dream, but a new process from a biofuel company promises to be able to turn CO2 and sunlight into fuel, bypassing the current need for large amounts of agricultural land and water to produce biomass feedstock.

Image: skyseekerSun


Joule Biotechnologies has announced that it can use direct microbial conversion of CO2 into hydrocarbons, powered by solar energy, creating biofuels such as ethanol without biomass or agricultural feedstocks, which minimizes the land and water usage in the production of fuel. The company’s Helioculture process uses sunlight and engineered organisms designed to secrete hydrocarbon molecules to produce the fuel products.

Current biofuel technologies are dependent on the use of biomass and an extensive extraction and refinement process, so the new technology from Joule is a true breakthrough in next generation fuel production. The company discovered genes which are coded for enzymatic mechanisms that can directly synthesize olefin and alkane molecules, which is the chemical composition of diesel. Current production by the company is lab scale, and a pilot development program is expected in early 2011.

“What we have are highly engineered photosynthetic organisms existing in a solution of nonfresh water … and some nutrients. They exist inside this novel solarconverter that is capturing the sun’s rays … We have sunlight as an input and CO2 as a feedstock. So, we are capturing CO2 and driving photosynthesis inside the converter. The organisms have been modified to directly secrete a variety of solar fuels and solar chemicals.” – Bill Sims, CEO of Joule Biotechnology

Joule Biotechnologies states that the process is capable of producing over 20,000 gallons of ethanol or other hydrocarbons per acre per year, and the price would be competitive with $50 a barrel oil.

“The SolarConverter™ system applies sophisticated optical and thermal engineering to allow its deployment on just minimal amounts of non-agricultural land, and it requires no fresh water. Its modular design means that the very same system in our laboratory today can easily move to wide-scale production. Interconnected assemblies can be multiplied to virtually any size based on land, CO2 availability and desired output.”

Joule is privately held company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures.

[via Ethanol Producer]

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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, RebelMouse, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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