News about the bioplastics industry

Finally, a Biofuel That is Commercially Viable?

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Joule Unlimited, a Cambridge, Massachusetts based company, has just begun construction on a test facility in Texas which will produce ethanol and diesel fuels from an innovative new source: gene altered organisms that absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide in order to “sweat” hydrocarbons.

These organisms live in a panel that resembles a photovoltaic cell and similarly faces the sun. They live in stagnant water and only need small amounts of chemical nutrients to prosper, making them hearty and, so far, able to withstand a variety of testing conditions. The move to a testing facility near Austin will test just how hearty and resilient these organisms are once they are exposed to the elements.

The technology is similar to the fuel-from-algae processes that many companies are experimenting with, except for one basic difference. In the algae process, the organisms actually hold the fats and fuels that need to be crushed out of them, or removed by some other means. This process is energy intensive and is generally the roadblock to commercializing biomass fuels. In the Joule process, the organisms actually “sweat” the fuels – eliminating the biggest bottleneck that has existed to make commercial production a reality.

For the organisms producing diesel, the extraction process is very easy – diesel floats in water, the same way that oil does, and can be skimmed off the top. For the ethanol producing plants, the fuel will have to be evaporated from the water.

The test plant is set to begin operations in June and Joule is expecting the production to reach 25,000 gallons of ethanol for each acre of panels - a much higher yield per acre than any other waste/biomass source has achieved to date. If all goes as planned, the pilot plant will switch to commercial production in 2012.


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