Joule secures first of multiple sites for solar fuel production; expects costs as low as $20/bbl for renewable diesel (including subsidies) at full-scale production
|The Helioculture concept. Source: Joule. Click to enlarge.|
Joule Unlimited, Inc., the developer of a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels (earlier post), has signed a lease agreement providing access to 1,200 acres in Lea County, New Mexico, with the potential to scale the project up to 5,000 acres for production of renewable diesel and ethanol directly from sunlight and waste CO2 using its engineered photosynthetic microorganisms. The agreement with Lea County is the first to be completed as part of Joule’s production facility siting program.
Joule says Lea County ideally meets it requirements for production, including high solar insolation, access to non-potable water and waste CO2. In addition, Joule could benefit from $19 million in state incentives to facilitate operations at commercial scale. This includes a tax credit made possible by the Advanced Energy Product Manufacturers Tax Credit Act, which the state legislature voted to amend in recognition of new, breakthrough processes like Joule’s that merit qualification.
This is an exciting first step for Joule in an effort to secure multiple optimal sites for demonstration, both within and beyond the United States, and to ultimately commercialize our process at the scale, costs and productivities that can make a strong impact in the global fuels market. In stark contrast to the complex, energy-intensive processes required to produce biofuels from biomass, Joule is forging ahead with a platform for high-volume production of renewable, infrastructure-ready diesel and ethanol at stable, competitive costs. We thank the state and Lea County officials for their tremendous support of this project.—Bill Sims, President and CEO of Joule
|Schematic comparison between direct photosynthetic (top) and algal biomass (bottom) processes. Source: Robertson et al. Click to enlarge.|
Joule’s process, called Helioculture, combines an engineered cyanobacterial organism supplemented with a product pathway and secretion system to produce and secrete a fungible alkane diesel product continuously in a SolarConverter designed to efficiently and economically collect and convert photonic energy. The process is closed and uses industrial waste CO2 at concentrations 50–100 times higher than atmospheric.
The diesel process yields long-chain alkanes, the majority component of diesel fuel, as opposed to a low-percentage blendstock like biodiesel. As a result it can immediately drop in to the existing diesel infrastructure with no need for refining or chemical processing.
Joule’s production facilities will employ the next generation of the company’s novel SolarConverter system, which manages the direct, continuous process from photon capture to product synthesis and separation with efficiencies that are up to 50X greater than those of biomass-dependent processes. At full-scale production, Joule expects to deliver diesel and ethanol for as little as $20/bble and $0.60/gallon respectively, including current subsidies.
A Joule team, including Harvard Medical School Professor of Genetics George Church, Joule co-founder and chairman of its technical advisory board, published a paper earlier this year in the journal Photosynthesis Research showing that the Joule process can produce the areal equivalent of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually. (Earlier post.)
Dan E. Robertson, Stuart A. Jacobson, Frederick Morgan, David Berry, George M. Church and Noubar B. Afeyan (2011) A new dawn for industrial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis Research doi: 10.1007/s11120-011-9631-7