I have just been notified by my friends at Talk Polywell of a break through in the biologic generation of liquid fuels. The Globe and Mail reports on the breakthrough (although my friends at Talk Polywell think the report is garbled by a not entirely science literate reporter).
In September, a privately held and highly secretive U.S. biotech company named Joule Unlimited received a patent for “a proprietary organism” – a genetically adapted E. coli bacterium – that feeds solely on carbon dioxide and excretes liquid hydrocarbons: diesel fuel, jet fuel and gasoline. This breakthrough technology, the company says, will deliver renewable supplies of liquid fossil fuel almost anywhere on Earth, in essentially unlimited quantity and at an energy-cost equivalent of $30 (U.S.) a barrel of crude oil. It will deliver, the company says, “fossil fuels on demand.”Not only that. They can tailor the organisms to produce specific fuels using only CO2, water (fresh or salt), and sunlight.
Joule says it now has “a library” of fossil-fuel organisms at work in its Massachusetts labs, each engineered to produce a different fuel. It has “proven the process,” has produced ethanol (for example) at a rate equivalent to 10,000 U.S. gallons an acre a year. It anticipates that this yield could hit 25,000 gallons an acre a year when scaled for commercial production, equivalent to roughly 800 barrels of crude an acre a year.So is this reputable or just a bunch of scammers?
By way of comparison, Cornell University’s David Pimentel, an authority on ethanol, says that one acre of corn produces less than half as much energy, equivalent to only 328 barrels. If a few hundred barrels of crude sounds modest, recall that millions of acres of prime U.S. farmland are now used to make corn ethanol.
Joule acknowledges its reluctance to fully explain its “solar converter.” CEO Bill Sims told Biofuels Digest, an online biofuels news service, that secrecy has been essential for competitive reasons. “Some time soon,” he said, “what we are doing will become clear.” Although astonishing in its assertions, Joule gains credibility from its co-founder: George Church, the Harvard Medical School geneticist who helped initiate the Human Genome Project in 1984.Well how about a look at what Biofuels Digest has to say.
In Massachusetts, Joule Unlimited has won a second key patent for its genetically modified cyanobacteria that directly convert sunlight and carbon dioxide into n-alkanes, and other diesel fuel molecules. The patent is the first awarded for a bacteria that makes fuel directly from water, sunlight and CO2, as opposed to organisms that make fuels from sugar or other cellulosic biomass, such as those engineered by LS9, Amyris or Solazyme.Those reporting the death of the US as a world power may have been somewhat premature. Joule is reported to be building a prototype plant in Leander, Tex. At this stage of course nothing is certain. It will probably take a couple of years to prove this out and get the "bugs" out of the system. And probably a couple of decades to scale up the idea until the production becomes a significant fraction of US liquid fuel use. Time will tell.
As reported previously in the Digest, Joule is using a genetically modified form of cyanobacteria. Two weeks ago, Joule received its first key patent for “methods and compositions for modifying photoautotrophic organisms as hosts, such that the organisms efficiently convert carbon dioxide and light into n-alkanes."
Here is another possible approach:
Green Algae Strategy: End Oil Imports And Engineer Sustainable Food And Fuel
Welcome Instapundit readers.
Thanks to reader clazy here is a link to the Joule patents.
Cross Posted at Classical Values