Joule awarded two patents for high-volume production of ethanol from sunlight and CO2; targeting 10X yield per acre over cellulosic ethanol, 100X over corn ethanol
Joule Unlimited Technologies, a bioengineering startup leveraging highly engineered photosynthetic organisms to catalyze the conversion of sunlight and CO2 to fuels and chemicals, has been awarded its first two US patents covering its fundamental method for producing ethanol at volumes and efficiencies surpassing biomass-dependent processes.
Joule is developing pathways and mechanisms to endow photoautotrophic organisms with the capacity for the efficient production of a range of transportation fuels and chemicals directly from carbon dioxide and light, thereby eliminating the time-consuming and expensive processing steps currently required to generate biofuels and biochemicals from biomass sources including corn, sugar cane, miscanthus, cellulose, and others. (Earlier post.)
These two latest patents relate to methods for increasing the ethanol production capability of a photosynthetic microorganism. Joule’s platform microorganism is engineered to produce and secrete ethanol in a continuous process, converting more than 90% of the CO2 it consumes directly to end product, with no reliance on biomass feedstocks.
US Patent #7,981,647 (“Engineered CO2 fixing microorganisms producing carbon-based products of interest ”) and US Patent #7,968,321 (“Ethanol production by microorganisms”) cover enzymatic mechanisms engineered into the cell by Joule to maximize its ethanol productivity.
Joule claims that these innovations, together with its advances in bioprocessing and solar capture and conversion, will help it achieve an ultimate target of 25,000 gallons per acre annually—a rate that is 10X greater than that of cellulosic ethanol and 100X greater than corn ethanol—while requiring no depletion of food crops, agricultural land or fresh water. Joule is now producing ethanol at pilot scale, and has achieved nearly 50% of its ultimate productivity target in the lab, it says.
In addition, by eliminating the need for biomass, Joule avoids the burden of fluctuating feedstock cost and supply, as well as the energy-intensive, multi-step conversion of biomass to product. At full-scale commercial production Joule expects to produce ethanol for as little as $0.60/gallon.
In an open access paper published earlier this year in the journal Photosynthesis Research, a Joule team concluded that its direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels could produce the areal equivalent of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually. (Earlier post.)
The market for ethanol is strong and growing internationally, and our patented technology affords Joule an incredible opportunity to meet growing demand at productivities well beyond biomass-based approaches. Rather than focus on incremental improvements along the supply chain, we have proven that a direct, continuous process from photons to fuel is the answer to highly-efficient, cost-competitive production that can scale without today’s feedstock constraints.—Bill Sims, President and CEO of Joule
The company today holds a total of six US patents and more than 70 applications pending, derived from four years of development across biology, processes and systems.
US Patent 7,981,647: Engineered CO2 fixing microorganisms producing carbon-based products of interest
US Patent 7,968,321: Ethanol production by microorganisms