Friday, June 1, 2012

Biodiesel Fuel Production Facility Planned

Two years ago a startup alternative energy company called Joule Unlimited received a patent for a process that uses genetically engineered bacteria to make biodiesel fuel from nothing more than sunlight, water, and CO2 (this blog, Sept. 20, 2010). This year the company raised $70 million in private equity to fund the construction of its first biodiesel production facility, to be built in New Mexico where harvesting solar energy is feasible.

Joule Unlimited’s biodiesel patented process is not all that different from what plants do. Plants use the same basic ingredients (sunlight, water, and CO2) to make sugars and starches. Humans can make biofuels from the sugars and starches in plants (think ethanol production from corn), but it’s expensive and requires prime agricultural land that could be put to other uses, such as growing food. Joule Unlimited’s genetically engineered bacteria make biodiesel directly. The company estimates that the process could generate up to 15,000 gallons of biodiesel per year on land that is unsuitable for agriculture, using non-potable water.

This technology could solve several problems at once if it works. One is what to do with all the excess CO2 currently being released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. Joule Unlimited’s process turns it back into fuel, simultaneously helping to solve the second problem – a shortage of non-polluting fuel!

Disclosure: I do not have any financial interest in Joule Unlimited. I just think the company has an idea worth watching.

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