Cambridge, Massachusetts company Joule Unlimited recently announced it has signed a lease agreement that secures the company access to 1,200 acres in Lea County, New Mexico, with the potential to scale the project up to 5,000 acres, for a renewable diesel and ethanol production facility.
When we last covered Joule and its alternative approach to renewable fuel production, the company had just attained a patent for its process which uses CO2 and sunlight to produce diesel with the help of genetically engineered photosynthetic microorganisms. At the time, the company’s vision was intriguing but seemed fairly grandiose, considering the rather involved process, materials, photonic and thermal engineering factors required for an efficient fuel production system. This recent news, however, could indicate that the company is closing in on its commercial-scale production goals.
Joule says that the Lea County, New Mexico location is ideal for its facility due to its plentiful sun and access to non-potable water and waste CO2, both essential ingredients to its process. It believes its system is superior to other renewable fuel production methods which often rely on biomass, algae or sugars and require extensive and costly chemical processing to achieve the desired result. Joule says that, unlike those biomass-dependent processes, its system is relatively simple and, according to the company, very efficient. In its statement, Joule claims that their “SunConverter” system could operate at a level of efficiency that is up to 50X greater than those of biomass-dependent processes and that, at full-scale production, it expects to deliver diesel and ethanol for as little as $20/bble and $0.60/gallon respectively, including existing subsidies.
If Joule can make good on those numbers, then commercial production of fuels via its patented process might become a reality in the not-so-distant future. Its recent lease agreement and potential access to $19 million worth of incentives seem to have the company off to a good start.