Diesel fuel, straight from the sun, courtesy of CO2? It may sound like blue sky dreaming but it is, apparently, a renewable energy fact, as Joule Unlimited, Inc. recently announced that it has received a patent for this breakthrough process, which uses genetically engineered photosynthetic microorganisms for the direct synthesis of diesel molecules.
Unlike today’s biofuel processes, which require expensive ingredients such as sugar, algal or agricultural biomass, Joule’s process is the first to achieve (and patent) a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of hydrocarbon fuels that requires no raw material feedstocks–nothing but solar energy and waste CO2 – two widely abundant resources. According to Joule, this patent sets the stage for fossil fuel replacement at “unprecedented efficiencies and costs as low as $30 per barrel equivalent.”
Don’t break out the champagne and cake just yet, though. While this patent represents a breakthrough in biology, it’s only one (if critical) aspect of the company’s integrated platform, which also incorporates process, materials, photonic and thermal engineering to create an optimal system for the efficient production of fuels and chemicals. (Read: the vision is big. Really big.) Using this breakthrough, Joule’s SolarConverter system will be developed to maximize photon-to-fuel conversion efficiency, and feature a modular, scalable design for ease of deployment. The company believes that this integrated platform will enable productivity above any other closed-system approach. Their commercial target is to create a system capable of producing 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually.
“This patent award represents a critical milestone for our IP strategy and validates the truly revolutionary nature of our process, which has the potential to yield infrastructure-compatible replacements for fossil fuels at meaningful scale and highly-competitive costs, even before subsidies,” said Bill Sims, President and CEO, Joule, in a statement. “Our vision since inception has been to overcome the limitations of biomass-based technologies, from feedstock costs and logistics to inefficient, energy-intensive processing. The result is the world’s first platform for converting sunlight and waste CO2 directly into diesel, requiring no costly intermediates, no use of agricultural land or fresh water, and no downstream processing.”