Joule Biotechnologies, a Cambridge Mass.-based company, has unveiled its business plans and synthetic biology technology that uses engineered microorganisms to make ethanol from sunlight and carbon dioxide. The company has thought out of the league and developed the HelioCulture system, which works without a biomass feedstock, such as algae or others plants. The engineered organisms grow in a salty water solution through photosynthesis and directly expel fuel or commercial chemicals.
Joule’s process is built around its SolarConverter, which gathers sunlight and supplies carbon dioxide into the solution. These modules can be strung together to make a larger facility. Once the fuel is separated, the solution can be recycled easily. The company claims to produce 20,000 gallons of fuel per acre each year. In order to get larger amounts of carbon dioxide, the company is looking forward to setting up a facility near a large emitter, such as a power plant or cement factory. A prototype of the SolarConverter that has been developed in New Mexico is in its last stages of testing, so expectations are that the groundbreaking ethanol-making facility will initiate near the beginning of 2010.