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Joule says it has improved the photosynthetic efficiency of its engineered cyanobacteria by nearly 100%

At the 2014 Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB) Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, Joule reported that its has improved the overall photosynthetic efficiency of its engineered cyanobacteria by nearly 100%, and estimates a maximum 14% energy conversion efficiency in its biomass-to-fuels process. (Joule has developed a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of solar hydrocarbon fuels earlier post).

Prior research has generally capped the photon energy conversion efficiency of photosynthetic processes at 2 – 3%. This was based on observations of photosynthesis in nature, where it encounters its two significant drains of useful energy—photorespiration and photoinhibition. These conditions prevent the optimal use of CO2 and light, and cannot be regulated in open outdoor environments, Joule noted.

By contrast, Joule has applied a systems approach that spans biocatalyst, reactor and process engineering to negate the effects of these conditions, resulting in many-fold greater energy conversion efficiencies and supporting Joule’s estimated process maximum of 14%.

The engineered biocatalysts are able to divert 95% of fixed carbon normally converted to biomass directly to fuel.

Joule presented at the SIMB Annual Meeting during a session on the metabolic engineering of photosynthetic microbes. Using a variety of techniques to genomically engineer these microbes, Joule has changed the products of this natural process into fuel molecules, including ethanol and diesel.



If this is as good as it sounds, it is really important - you could just grow diesel directly - you could skip all the hydrogen nonsense completely and go straight to diesel.

14% efficient is about as good as consumer grade PV, so it would be really useful.

I wonder how much water it uses, and what the actual yields are (or will be).


14% isn't just competitive with PV (before conversion losses), it produces a storable product.

This is still a ways from doing work in the field, but it's pretty darn good.  Just as a way to fix carbon, it could be one answer to GHG emissions.

Roger Pham

This, if confirmed independently, should be headline news everywhere, and no further investment in oil exploration and drilling should be made. Oil is very important for planes, ships, and trucks, because these are 40-50% efficient power plants.

However, please note that FCEV is 50-60% efficient, BEV is 75% efficient, while a private ICEV is about 18-20% efficient, so FCEV and BEV will still be important, plus, they are ZEV and good for local air quality. An ICEV may be low-emitting for the warranty of emission control system, but may become very bad as it gets older.

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