Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



One Giant Step Closer to Fuel-from-Sunlight by Joule Biotechnologies

Joule Biotechnologies has moved closer to constructing a pilot plant for producing ethanol and diesel from sunlightJoule Biotechnologies, Inc. has just announced that a lease agreement has been signed for a new facility in Leander, Texas, which will serve as a pilot plant to develop the company’s solar powered system for producing ethanol and other biofuels.  The energy efficient process is based on photosynthetic microorganisms and it operates without the use of conventional biomass or algae biofuel processes.


CleanTechnica and Gas 2.0 have been eagerly following Joule’s progress, and the company has already produced ethanol and diesel at a lab scale rate.  It plans to start ethanol production this year at the pilot plant, with diesel to follow early next year.  Once operating at full scale, the facility has  the potential to deliver at the rate of 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre yearly, and 15,000 gallons of diesel.  That could be the tip of the iceberg, because the same process can also yield a variety of high-value chemicals in addition to biofuels.

Biofuel from Sunlight and Microorganisms

Joule prefers to call its system “solar fuel,” and rightfully so.  The heart of the process is the company’s proprietary SolarConverter, which contains photosynthetic organisms in a bath of brackish water and nutrients, with carbon dioxide fed in.  While the concept is similar to producing algae biofuel, there are several significant twists.  The organisms are not algae, they are bio-engineered proprietary organisms that produce and secrete fuel without the need for costly fermentation processes, extraction or refinement processes.  The system also skips the need to collect and transport large quantities of biomass.

Low Cost, Energy Efficient Solar Fuel

Joule calls its process Helioculture, and aside from its non-use of conventional biomass it has a number of environmental advantages over conventional biofuel production.  The use of a highly efficient solar powered process is number one.  Running a close second is the use of brackish water rather than potable water (or having to power water filtration equipment).  The system is also designed to take in waste carbon dioxide, which would add it to the growing list of carbon-capturing opportunities.  As a carbon capturing operation, Helioculture can operate on a large scale, but the SolarConverter modules are also designed to custom fit facilities of any size.

Texas Leading Stampede Away from Fossil Fuels

Big oil may be in for a rough ride if the Leander facility delivers on its promises, because Joule estimates it can produce ethanol at an energy equivalency of $50 per barrel and diesel at $40 per barrel.   It seems that Texas is to play host to one of life’s little ironies, as the state’s signature industry is rapidly being elbowed aside by alternative energy including the world’s largest wind farm, along with the growing recognition that Texas has the top solar energy potential in the U.S.

Image: Water drop by Irargerich on

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don't like paywalls, and so we've decided to ditch ours. Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It's a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So ...
If you like what we do and want to support us, please chip in a bit monthly via PayPal or Patreon to help our team do what we do! Thank you!
Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Have a tip for CleanTechnica, want to advertise, or want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


You May Also Like


An interview with Hannes Junginger, CEO of Carbonfuture, on how to achieve a gigaton-scale carbon removal market Can you give a simple explanation of...

Clean Power

Fervo Energy will build a direct air capture demonstration plant to test its geothermal and carbon removal technology.

Climate Change

Avoiding the worst effects of the climate emergency is a hugely complex problem. Where can we store all the carbon we have been blowing...


Can electric vehicles benefit from the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) scheme? Reuters reports that it is highly likely that they can. It appears...

Copyright © 2023 CleanTechnica. The content produced by this site is for entertainment purposes only. Opinions and comments published on this site may not be sanctioned by and do not necessarily represent the views of CleanTechnica, its owners, sponsors, affiliates, or subsidiaries.