Tuesday, September 14, 2010

15,000 GPAcre Biodiesel? 25,000 GPAcre Ethanol? A Joule of a Claim

Joule Unlimited -- a company that uses genetically engineered cyanobacteria to produce biofuels -- has been granted another patent on its engineered cyanobacteria. At the same time, it is announcing some rather ambitious yield targets for two different biofuels from its newly patented organism.
Joule says its microbes can produce the equivalent of 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre per year and 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre per year. Pilot production on diesel begins later this year. It says it has already shown it can produce 10,000 gallons of ethanol a year, or 40 percent of its goal, on its pilot lines in Leander, Texas.

Those production figures are far higher than the usual industry claims, which at this point are still largely in the theoretical realm themselves. No one is in mass production with microbe fuels just yet. Most algae companies talk about producing the equivalent of 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of diesel-like hydrocarbons a year. Some researchers have noted that fuel production will be capped by the finite amount of sunlight that falls on a given plot of land.

Then there are the practicalities. Joule grows its organisms with water and companies, including the now defunct Greenfuel Technologies, have found that separating organisms and/or their byproducts from water isn't easy.

Organisms, many critics note, also can't produce fuel as fast and in the same quantities as thermochemical processes. Cambrios Technologies started out as a company that designed bugs to develop green chemicals. The company found it was easier to produce the chemicals the good old fashioned way and spun off its biological division into Siluria.

If Joule can achieve these numbers, it could leap to the front of the biofuel pack. The fact that Joule says it can produce hydrocarbons and an alcohol like ethanol is intriguing too. _GTM
The ability to produce either ethanol or hydrocarbons would make any micro-organism particularly versatile. But to produce either in the quantity yields which Joule is projecting, would make it a champion among microbial species. Should it be disqualified because it has an unfair advantage from genetic modification? Only if you are deeply into Political Peak Oil.

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