Biofuels Company Industrializes Photosynthesis
by Holly Jessen (Ethanol Producer Magazine) For eight years, Joule has been working under the radar to develop and commercialize its CO2-to-fuel technology. — When it comes to ethanol production volumes per acre of land, Joule’s Helioculture technology leaves all other processes in the dust.
“We can do several factors higher productivity than any other biofuel system,” says Tom Jensen, executive vice president and head of corporate development, speaking from the company’s demo plant in Hobbs, New Mexico, where the company has reached peak yields of 4,000 to 5,000 gallons of ethanol per acre, per year. At lab scale, the number is closer to 16,000 gallons at peak, and Joule is still reaching for higher productivity numbers for an ideal outdoor location. “We do believe we know how close the gap to what we label theoretical maximum, which is about 25,000 gallons per acre, per year.”
The company’s technology utilizes engineered cyanobacteria to continuously convert waste CO2 to fuel, including ethanol and alkanes that are highly blendable for diesel and jet fuel products. Joule has developed a library of cyanobacteria, each one optimized for production of a desired end product. Joule’s process can also produce biochemicals, although that hasn’t been the company’s focus. “We believe the world needs a scalable low carbon solution for fuel,” Jensen says.
The Joule system circulates engineered microorganisms, brackish or sea water, nutrients and CO2 in large see-through plastic tubes. As the organisms are exposed to sunlight, the photosynthetic process occurs and ethanol secretes out the cells of the organism, which is then recovered. “The efficiency of this process is quite extraordinary,” Jensen says. “It is really a close to 100 percent direct conversion of CO2 and sunlight to fuel.”
Red Rock’s Fischer-Tropsch production process produces a pure source of CO2, which could be utilized in Joule’s production process as a feedstock, recycling an already recycled CO2 stream to produce more biofuels, Jensen says. The merger is a diversification strategy and adds a pathway for producing additional low carbon to carbon neutral fuels. READ MORE