Joule Raises $40M, as “Fuel from Thin Air” Preps for Commercial Scale in 2017.
by Jim Lane (Biofuels Digest) In Massachusetts, the remarkable journey of Joule Unlimited towards commercial-scale continued to add exciting chapters with the news that the company has closed on $40 million in private equity and venture debt financing, supporting the company’s growth towards commercialization. The round was led by existing investors, including Flagship Ventures, and brings the company’s total to $200 million raised to date.
They like to call it “reverse-combustion”. In combustion, as we know, energy is released when we burn an alcohol (such as ethanol) or an alkane (such as diesel fuel), and the fuel is converted into water vapor and CO2.
So, reverse it. Take water and CO2, and using a phtosynthetic organism as a catalyst (one capable of much higher productivity than a plant), combine CO2 and water vapor into an alcohol or an alkane.
And, unlike biofuels derived indirectly from agricultural or algal biomass in a multi-step process, Joule’s fuels are derived directly from sunlight and waste CO2 in a single conversion step.
Joule’s Tom Jensen describes the overall activity as “de-risking the remaining aspects of the technology and scaling-up and scale-out of the process.”
Step one is the completion of a “much larger system” at Hobbs, as Jensen puts it, “that will be the main scale-up happening.” Timing? “We are hoping to commission by the end of this year and to demionstrate that the main industriual risk has been taken out.
In 2016, expect scale-out to begin, as the company demonstrate the scalability of its modular SolarConverter system, which enables the direct, continuous production of fuel from CO2 and sunlight. It’s a modular system, which is to say there is not the mechanical or fermentation scale-up risks associated with, say, a new production organism moving into million liter fermenters. 12 units should work together just as easily as 100.
“… What remains is to integrate fluegas from a nearby source, which is not really technically a problem, it’s straightforward. Obviously, the the closer we are to a source, the better it is economically. It’s the same for water, and typically a Joule facility would be close to saline or brackish aquifers or coastlines.”
For now, think ethanol. The diesel molecules will come a little later — it’s a more difficult process to make a 10-15 carbon atom diesel moecule than a two-carbon atom molecule like ethanol. READ MORE and MORE (Boston Business Journal)