Scientists making diesel with sun, water, CO2

Joule Unlimited, Inc., pioneer of Liquid Fuel from the Sun, today supported the high-productivity potential of its production process with the publication of a detailed analysis and model of its breakthrough solar-to-fuels platform.

Published by Photosynthesis Research, the peer-reviewed article examines Joule’s critical advances in solar capture and conversion, direct product synthesis and continuous product secretion, which collectively form a platform for renewable fuel and chemical production with yields up to 50X greater than the maximum potential of any process requiring biomass. In addition, the analysis counters prior assumptions about the viability of industrial photosynthesis, addressing the barriers overcome by Joule to achieve unprecedented photosynthetic efficiency.

SolarConverter system from Joule Unlimited
“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.”

The article, entitled “A New Dawn for Industrial Photosynthesis,” quantitatively affirms the advantages of Joule’s direct conversion process as compared to the indirect production of fuel from biomass, including algae. Though both processes aim to convert solar energy into fuel, the latter method requires the costly culturing, harvesting and processing of algal biomass – a multi-step intermediate stage that Joule’s process avoids. Moreover, Joule’s process directly yields hydrocarbons that are fungible with existing diesel infrastructure, unlike the biodiesel product that is produced from algal oil.

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Based on empirical measurements, Joule can directly produce 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually, as compared to 3,000 gallons of biodiesel produced indirectly from algae. The solar-to-product conversion efficiency of Joule’s direct, continuous process for producing diesel, ethanol and chemicals is between 5 and 50X greater than any biomass-dependent process, and gains additional efficiencies by avoiding downstream refining. Joule’s combined advances in genome engineering, solar capture and bioprocessing result in photosynthetic conversion efficiency of more than 7% relative to available yearly solar energy striking the ground, many times greater than prior industry assumptions.

Reference:
Robertson DE, Jacobson SA, Morgan F, Berry D, Church GM, Afeyan NB. A new dawn for industrial photosynthesis. Photosynth Res. 2011 Feb 13. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 21318462.

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