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Written by Jason Wells

Joule Unlimited, Inc. is an emerging alternative energy/fuel company that has utilized genome manipulation in single-cell algae to solve many of the conventional problems facing traditional solutions. Started out of Cambridge, Mass., Joule was founded originally as a biotechnology firm, established to utilize the genomic alterations in cellular organisms pioneered by esteemed Harvard bio-geneticist Dr. George Church and their own expert Dr. Dan Robertson.

In the emerging alternative energy/fuel industry, ideas, solutions, and developments are as varied and plentiful as the imagination can dream.  For Joule, they have developed what they call the Helioculture™ platform.  Very simplistically, sunlight and CO2 are used to photosynthesize microorganisms, resulting in the organisms producing hydrocarbons and ethanol as waste products.  The waste is then collected and separated from the water solution, and subsequently stored for either transport or further refinement.

As one would imagine, there are significant competitive advantages for this type of fuel production.  By biosynthesizing the fuel, Joule has severely reduced feedstock costs and eliminated expensive step-wise synthesis.  Furthermore, the fact that the Helioculture™ uses environmentally harmful greenhouse gas as its feedstock means it could reduce the emissions of traditional power plants and refineries.  The continuous, one-step closed system is not only incredibly efficient in both acreage and energy consumption compared to other biomass biofuel solutions, but the modularly-developed approach is also extremely scalable to any size and with virtually no point of diminishing returns.
Perhaps the most promising aspect of this new technology is that it can competitively challenge traditional oil/natural gas extraction on price point.  Joule has predicted that full-scale operations could produce ultra clean diesel for as little $30 per barrel as well as up to 25,000 gallons per acre per year.  Want Joule to make something besides diesel? They can easily switch out the microorganisms to biosynthesize ethanol, gasoline, or jet fuel.  Recently Joule has opened a pilot plant in Texas to perform initial production research and testing with full-scale production scheduled to commence in 2012. 

 


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