Joule Patents Organism for Biofuels

The Cambridge, Massachusetts start-up company Joule Unlimited said it was awarded a patent for a process that uses organisms to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into hydrocarbons that can be a drop-in fuel replacement.

The Joule system, called the SolarConverter system, looks like a solar PV panel. Inside, engineered organisms bathed in sunlight feed on CO2 and secrete hydrocarbon fuels.

Joule executives say they are on a path toward producing fuel for around $30 per barrel equivalent. So far, with little experience to monitor, that target is difficult to assess. The company is hoping to finish building its pilot facility in Texas by the end of the year.

The company made a big splash last fall when it came out of stealth mode and said that it could potentially produce around 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre per year, and 10,000-20,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year at commercial scale. Those numbers are extraordinarily high – if Joule can get to half that production, it would be a feat.

Investors are apparently excited about the potential. The raised $30 million this May in a round of funding with Flagship ventures.

MIT’s Technology Review recently put Joule on its 2010 list of top ten innovators. Here’s a video from them with an overview of the company’s efforts.

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