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Solar-Powered, Fuel-Producing Organisms

Tue, 11/10/2009 - 4:02am

Jim Lane Biofuels Digest — November 10, 2009

In Hawaii, at the BIO Pacific Rim Summit, Joule Biotechnologies announced that it has achieved direct microbial conversion of CO2 into hydrocarbons via engineered organisms, powered by solar energy.

Joule’s Helioculture process mixes sunlight and CO2 with highly engineered photo synthetic organisms, which are designed to secrete ethanol, diesel or other products.

However, unlike algae and other current biomass-derived fuels, the Helioculture process does not produce biomass, requires no agricultural feedstock and minimizes land and water use. It is also direct-to-product, so there is no lengthy extraction and/or refinement process.

The breakthrough was made possible by the discovery of unique genes coding for enzymatic mechanisms that enable the direct synthesis of both alkane and olefin molecules – the chemical composition of diesel. Production was achieved at lab scale, with pilot development slated for early 2011.

Because its organisms are being engineered to directly secrete hydrocarbon molecules, Joule will avoid costly steps such as large-scale biomass collection, energy-intensive degradation, or other downstream refinement. In addition, Joule’s process requires just marginal, non-arable land, no crops and no fresh water.

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