Is The Future of Biofuels Algae That Sweats Diesel?

There’s been plenty of buzz around algae-based biofuels, but most remain energy-intensive, requiring those little green plants to be crushed to produce oil. Not so the biofuels currently under development by Joule Unlimited of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their genetically-engineered single-celled organisms actually “sweat” biofuel, and live on to produce more.

We’ve been following this innovative technology–recently named by M.I.T.’s Technology Review magazine as one of the 10 most important emerging technologies–for the last few weeks, and are pleased to report that it will soon make the move out of the lab and into the field. Specifically, to Leander, Texas (about 30 miles north of Austin), where the solar-panel-like sheets of these plants contained between glass (in the brackish water in which they thrive) will begin to test the widespread commercial potential for this emerging technology. While the Joules organisms can withstand cold, according to the New York Times, the site was chosen for the unlikeliness of ice.


image via PhysOrg

These patented gene-altered organisms absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide and combine them into diesel hydrocarbons. Diesel fuel is easy to gather because, like most hydrocarbon oils, it is lighter than water and tends to separate–and while ethanol mixes with water and must be distilled, the technology for this is widely available.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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