Harnessing Sunlight to Convert Carbon Dioxide to Liquid Fuel

April 21, 2010 by John Messina, Phys.org weblog
Liquid fuel from sunlight.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A startup company, Joule Biotechnologies, Inc., has developed an alternative solution of producing liquid fuel by harnessing sunlight to directly convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into liquid energy (SolarFuel).

This eco-friendly system requires no agricultural land or fresh water and is capable of producing more than 20,000 gallons of renewable ethanol or hydrocarbons per acre annually.

Bill Sims, president and CEO of Joule Biotechnologies stated: “There is no question that viable, renewable fuels are vitally important, both for economic and environmental reasons. And while many novel approaches have been explored, none has been able to clear the roadblocks caused by high production costs, environmental burden and lack of real scale”.

Bill Sims went on to say; “Joule was created for the very purpose of eliminating these roadblocks with the best equation of biotechnology, engineering, scalability and pricing to finally make a reality—all while helping the environment by reducing global CO2 emissions.”

By leveraging highly-engineered photosynthetic organisms to catalyze the conversion of sunlight and CO2, usable and chemicals can be manufactured. This “SolarConverter” system assist the process capturing the sunlight to product conversion and separation using minimal resources. This diverts from established processes of biomass derived biofuels such as algae and cellulose-based forms which are costly, involves many processing steps and substantial scale-up risk.

Joule process for converting sunlight into liquid energy (SolarFuel) Credit: Joule Biotechnologies, Inc.

Joule Biotechnologies has a patent-pending “Helioculture” technology that far surpasses the limitations of other clean fuel processes by using to convert CO2 directly into “SolarFuel” liquid energy. This liquid energy has up to 100 times the density of conventional batteries, and can be very efficiently stored and shipped without any degradation of power.

The company’s first product offering of “SolarEthanol” fuel, will be ready for commercial-scale development this year. Joule Biotechnologies has also demonstrated proof of concept for producing hydrocarbon fuel and expects process demonstration by 2011.

Explore further: Genome Engineering Could Provide New Method of Creating Diesel

More information: www.joulebio.com

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5 / 5 (3) Apr 21, 2010
Wow! If this works it will be revolutionary. It could be used in quite arid regions, that also have the highest unobstructed sunlight.
4 / 5 (7) Apr 21, 2010
Nice ad. Now prove it. Turn water into wine while youre at it too.
4.2 / 5 (5) Apr 21, 2010
So vauge as to be meaningless. At least Algenol has patents we can read in the public domain.
"Solarfuel" and "Solarconverter".. Seriously?!
not rated yet Apr 21, 2010
Admittedly- the name isn't very sexy, but, if this is as advertised, then, as Parsec says- it will be THE game changer. No one else -currently- even comes close!
1 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
heh- I wonder if the truck is in scale.
Apr 22, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Apr 22, 2010
If only the efficiency was close to what we get for other technologies.
Apr 22, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
I made some calculations:
1 acre=4046.856 m2
1 gallon=3.78541 l
20000 gallon=75708.2 l
yearly production of ethanol per m2 =18.7 l/m2
energy content of ethanol 23.5 MJ/l= 6.53 kWh/l
yearly energy production: 122.069444 kWh/m2
This is equivalent to the yearly electricity production of a solar panel with 12% efficiency in southern Germany or 8% to 9% in Southern Europe. Even in the latter case this is still impressive.
Yet, it would be interesting to know for which area ( yearly solar influx) they derived their figures and how costly it is, to produce this yearly amount of energy per m2.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
There are over a dozen companies that have announced similar technologies, only to flounder on the realities of dealing with bio systems. PetroSun BioFuels started their prototype farm in 2008, but they don't have anything to say about the results.
2.7 / 5 (3) Apr 22, 2010
I did a little math of my own:

US oil use daily: 19 million barrels

One barrel of oil = 42 gallons

US oil use daily: 798 million gallons

US oil use, yearly (798 million X 365) = 2.9127 billion gallons

Number of acres necessary to to produce equivalent gallons: (2.9127 billion / 20,000) = 14,563,500
Note - It would actually be necessary to produce more than the equivalent number of gallons of oil, because ethanol doesn't have the energy density of oil.

Number of acres per square mile: 640

Number of square miles equivalent to 14,563,500 acres: (14,563,500/640) = 22755

22,755 square miles is an area a little smaller than West Virginia (24,231 sq miles). That's the area the PANELS would need. Roads, tanks, support infrastructure would add much more.

As a comparison, there are 61,000 square miles of pavement in the US total, built over a period of 100 YEARS.

Summary - this technology is not a game changer. Maybe it'll help in niche markets, but that's it.
not rated yet Apr 22, 2010
Prior art: seaweed, algae blooms, etc. Given that the Mississippi delta needs rebuilding anyhow, why not make it a profitable undertaking?
5 / 5 (1) Apr 22, 2010
"By leveraging highly-engineered photosynthetic organisms to catalyze the conversion of sunlight and CO2,"

Uh.... okay, so GM some algae to produce ethanol/gasoline directly.

It's a good idea, sure.

That's why 40 other companies are doing it.

Why do we care about this one?
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
I think I need to buy a few hundred acres of the Sahara desert. I'll be rich, rich!
5 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2010
Fabian, oil is not ethanol, so the requirements you derive are likely much smaller, coupled with increases in efficiency in combustion engines, means that this tech could really be a "game changer"
5 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2010
I note that the water is not fresh water. This is an important factor also.
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
IMHO, it would be better to produce methanol instead of ethanol. Then, feed it to direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), generating electricity to feed into an electric drive system. With much higher conversion efficiency than internal combustion engines (ICE), the total effective energy density would probably be comparable to the current gasoline/ICE systems. And if one can eliminate transmissions and differentials (which won't be necessary when you have electric motors installed directly into wheels), then one reduces both complexity and weight of the vehicle, while getting a four-wheel-drive "for free", and probably ending up with a more compact drivetrain at the same time (thus, more room for passengers/cargo)...
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
Personally I like this tech:
-Dont know how reliable or developed it is but bugs smell. Bugs die. Titaniums cool.
1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2010
This is as vague as any other marketing brochure.

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