Firm makes diesel directly from sunlight

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Massachusetts biotech company Joule Unlimited says it's demonstrated a process for generating pure diesel directly from solar energy.

The company's Helioculture platform converts sunlight and waste CO2 directly into liquid fuel - Liquid Fuel from the Sun - without the two-stage process of using sunlight to grow plants which are then processed for fuel.

 "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," says Bill Sims, president and CEO of Joule.

"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."

In a peer-reviewed article published by Photosynthesis Research, Joule demonstrates that it 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 five and 50X greater than any biomass-dependent process - and there's no need for downstream refining.

"We have shown that photosynthesis is the superior platform technology for direct, renewable fuel production at the volumes and costs required to supplant fossil fuels," says Dan Robertson, senior vice president of biological sciences at Joule.

"The engineering of a photosynthetic microorganism to directly synthesize an infrastructure-compatible product, and continuously secrete that product, represents a landmark in industrial bioprocessing."