Joule Unlimited, a Massachusetts biotechnology company, claims it can now produce diesel fuel from the same ingredients that make plants grow. They have developed a genetically-engineered organism that secretes diesel or ethanol under conditions of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide. It can be manipulated to produce renewable fuels on demand in mass quantities in facilities of any size and at costs that are competitive with the cheapest fossil fuels.
According to Joule, this could be a huge breakthrough in energy independence. “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,” said Joule’s chief executive Bill Sims.
Critics point out that though the new technology is exciting, it’s not quite proven just yet. There may be difficulties collecting the fuel the new organism is producing, for example. But, then again, there are always skeptics for breakthrough technologies. This month, a peer-reviewed paper backs its claims of production of diesel molecules from the cyanobacterium.
While the company has only been around since 2007, it has doubled its employees and earned millions in private funding since. Joule claims they have been working to eliminate the middleman that has been making the production of biofuels so costly, making the new organisms much more efficient at producing fuel than most algae at a mere $30 per barrel.
Furthermore, Joule plans on building facilities near power plants, so their cyonabacteria can consume carbon dioxide waste. Reducing carbon emissions and our dependence on foreign oil and offshore drilling at the same time? Priceless. And apparently, quite inexpensive.