biotechnology company in Massachusetts has created a genetically engineered
organism capable of producing diesel fuel or ethanol, which can be used to run
cars and jet engines.
a Cambridge-based producer of alternative energy technologies that was founded
in 2007, developed a genetically engineered organism called
a cyanobacterium, which uses water, sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce and
secrete renewable fuels.
now, researchers have created fuel from solar energy through the use of corn
and algae. But creating ethanol from corn or extracting fuel from algae on a
large scale can be costly due to biomass. The process consists of having to
grow tons of algae or corn, harvest it and destroy it in order to extract the
fuel, which must then be treated before it can be used.
according to biologist Dan Robertson, Joule Unlimited's top scientist, the
cyanobacterium eliminates biomass from the equation when producing renewable fuels. The organism
is genetically engineered to secrete a "completed product," which is
identical to ethanol or diesel fuel. In addition, it is not destroyed in the
process of producing these fuels, and can continuously create more. The
cyanobacterium used is "found everywhere" and less complex than
algae, making it easier to genetically manipulate.
Unlimited claims that the cyanobacterium can create 15,000 gallons of diesel
full per acre annually. Also, the company says it can do this at $30 a barrel.
The plan is to build facilities close to power plants so
that their cyanobacteria can consume waste carbon dioxide, making the organism
an environmentally friendly addition to the oil industry.
addition, the cyanobacteria are housed in flat, solar panel-like bioreactors
with grooved, thin panels for both light absorption and fuel collection. The
bioreactors are modules that allow for the building of arrays as small or large
"as land allows" at facilities.
make some lofty claims, all of which we believe, all which we've validated, all
of which we've shown to investors," said Joule Chief Executive Bill Sims.
"If we're half right, this revolutionizes the world's largest industry,
which is the oil and gas industry. And if we're right, there's no reason why
this technology can't change the world."
Joule Unlimited seems confident in its new organism, others aren't so sure that
the new fuel-producing cyanobacterium will work. For example, National
Renewable Energy Laboratory scientist Phillip Pienkos calculated the
information from Joule's paper on the study, and said that eliminating the
biomass step creates problems when recovering the fuel. Specifically, it leaves
small amounts of fuel in relatively large amount of water producing a
"sheen." He believes the company will have problems recovering large amounts of fuel efficiently.
think they're trading one set of problems for another," said
Robertson doesn't seem to agree with Pienkos' criticism. In fact, Robertson
described a day in the future when he will own a Ferrari and fill its tank with
Joule fuel. He plans to prove all naysayers wrong when he hits the gas pedal on
his new vehicle, showing how well it runs on Joule's fuel.
wasn't kidding about the Ferrari," said Robertson.
feels the same way about Joule's new organism, suggesting that critics are too
closed-minded and behind the times to accept such technology yet.
always skeptics for breakthrough technologies," said Sims. "And they
can ride home on their horse and use their abacus to calculate their checkbook
Unlimited plans to begin building a 10-acre demonstration facility this year,
and hopes to be operating commercially as soon as two years.