Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joule Biotechnologies: light + CO2 + GMO = fuel

Joule Biotechnologies, with headquarters at 83 Rogers St, Cambridge, Massachusetts is a startup with USD 50 million in its pockets.

It plans to create cheaper fuel than everyone else: the price should be equivalent to less than USD 50 per barrel.

George Church, a Harvard molecular geneticist (see the picture), is among the co-founders: the type of GM organisms seems to be a top secret. It just seems like a new choice, different from other people attempting to do similar things.

Bill Sims is the newly elected CEO and president.

Click to zoom in.

It's not another biofuel company. No agricultural land or fresh water is needed. You need sunlight and (concentrated) carbon dioxide, the gas we call life, but you obtain 20,000 gallons per acre and year (18.71 liters per squared meter and year), an order of magnitude better result than typical biofuels! Because the biofuels are close to the edge of being economically meaningful, you may be sure that this order of magnitude is FTW.

A detail I liked about their website is that I didn't find any references to "climate change". (Wrong! See the fast comments.) After all, if you can get 19 liters of cheap gasoline out of CO2 from each squared meter annually, you are likely to love CO2. ;-)

See Google News.

Hydrocarbons without life

By the way, some hydrocarbons can be synthesized without the help of life, just with the pressure found inside the Earth's crust, it was recently argued. See also Wired.

Another comment. British archaeologists say that a rise in temperatures by a few degrees - global warming - is what has given the power to the Incan Empire between 550 AD and 1000 AD, after 3000 not-so-warm and not-so-friendly years.


  1. Lubos, this looks as the perpetuum mobile device dream. Algae need too much water and it must be recycled after a while. Good project if they do it in heavy rainy countries, but otherwise if they have to pump water from acquifers, costs will be prohibitive.

    Jathrop trees need 10,000 liters of water for every liter of biofuel. corn uses 5.000 liters while sugar cane needs a little less. I think biofuels are going to be the next Ponzi scheme...

  2. You have got to be kidding. 18 liters per square meter? At $50/barrel one m^2 of this bio-reactor produces $10 per year worth of oil.

    So, let's assume they did make this incredible break through that multiples the efficiency of photosynthesis by an order of magnitude.

    Assuming $2/year/m^2 in total operating expense, a 20 year lifespan and 7% cost of capital, this device must be installed for $85/m^2.

    What's an equivalent machine and process that can be manufactured and run within these parameters?

    I think they learned the lesson from the tens of billions of dollars the government is wasting on battery cars and ethanol: you don't need the technology if you can sell the hype.

    Also, where on earth did you get the notion that algae is almost economical? Bio-reactors are not even within a factor of 20 of being economical. I seem to remember post a while back laughing the energy to make the plastic bags in a bio-reactor will never be recovered.

    At the very least the scarcity details released calls for extreme skepticism.