Written by R.E. Lord

The SolarFuel Process

Joule Biotechnologies, a Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company founded in 2007 by Flagship Ventures, has recently unveiled a new sun-powered fuel that has been getting quite a bit of attention lately.  The process to create the fuel or "SolarFuel" as Joule calls it "harnesses sunlight to directly convert carbon dioxide (CO2)" into their new, proprietary liquid energy.  Furthermore, the company claims that this "eco-friendly, direct-to-fuel conversion requires no agricultural land or fresh water, and leverages a highly scalable system capable of producing more than 20,000 gallons of renewable ethanol or hydrocarbons per acre annually."

This "Helioculture" process has been two years in the making and utilizes their scalable SolarConverter system, a solar panel that combines some brackish water, nutrients and photosynthetic organisms to eventually produce their fuel. The addition of CO2 with sunlight mixed with the organisms basically produces the chemical equivalent of ethanol and hydrocarbon-based fuels and chemicals.

The real benefits of this technology, the company claims, is that it is scalable to varying sizes of production and it does not need arable land or fresh water.  As Joule puts it, "The modular SolarConverter design is engineered to meet demand on a global scale while requiring just a fraction of the land needed for biomass-based approaches. It can be easily customized depending on land size, CO2 availability and desired output."

Joule Biotech plans to begin building a pilot plant in 2010 and demonstrating the process in 2011.

Image courtesy of Joule Biotechnology