Frequently Asked Questions
There are many companies emerging in the renewable fuels space with promising claims. What makes Joule different?
First generation biofuels have known drawbacks, such as the reliance on agricultural land, fresh water and food crops for feedstocks, as well as high product costs, limited productivity and scale. Newer cellulosic and algal biomass-derived fuels address some of these concerns, but they still require costly, multi-step production to reach end product, and their productivities are limited. Joule’s transformative Helioculture™ technology directly converts waste CO2 into ethanol and diesel-range paraffinic alkanes, requiring no raw material feedstocks, biomass harvesting or processing. The efficiencies and scalability of our direct-to-end-product™ process will allow Joule to deliver ethanol and diesel fuel at high productivity levels and competitive costs. Click here for more information on what sets us apart.
This emerging category describes fuels that are directly produced by biological or chemical means, powered by sunlight. Joule is making fuels directly from the sun's energy, as opposed to fossil fuels, which are formed indirectly from the sunâ€™s energy over millions of years. Biomass-derived fuels are also the indirect result of solar energy that's been absorbed for growth. By contrast, Joule captures solar energy directly to produce fuels as a by-product of photosynthetic metabolism in a continuous process.
Using solar energy to produce liquid fuels gives us several advantages over conventional solar power. Joule's solar-derived fuels have up to 100 times the energy storage density of conventional batteries and can be very efficiently stored and transported without degradation of power. We're also free from the large water demands that pose a challenge to solar power plants. And finally, the use of solar energy to produce fuels and chemicals gives us tremendous scalability, unlike methods requiring resources that are in limited supply.
No. Joule is fundamentally different in three distinct ways.
• First, our microorganism does not fit the scientific definition of algae. Algae are defined as eukaryotic photosynthetic microorganisms, whereas Joule's engineered microorganisms are prokaryotic due to their lack of intracellular organelles, chloroplasts, nucleus and their use of prokaryotic ribosomes.
• Second, our process differs significantly from algal fuel processes. Algal fuels are produced indirectly, beginning with the growth of algal biomass and subsequent harvesting, dewatering and extraction of oil, which is then chemically processed or refined into a fuel product. By contrast, Joule's microorganisms are engineered as "catalysts" to directly produce and secrete fuels in a continuous, single-step process.
• Third, our product differs from the product that is derived from algae. Algae make triglycerides, which are chemicals found in plant oils and animal fats. These are subsequently chemically converted to biodiesel (a fatty acyl ester). By contrast, Joule's microorganisms are engineered to directly produce liquid hydrocarbons. We have engineered microorganisms to produce ethanol and value-added chemicals as well.
The Helioculture™ process will continue to produce product with minimal sunlight, though productivity rates will be reduced during that period. All of our productivity calculations are based on yearly historical data from NREL and other sources that already take into consideration the number of days that the sunlight is reduced.
No. Joule Sunflow-E is chemically identical to ethanol on the market today. It differs in the way that it is produced- requiring no biomass feedstocks. Joule Sunflow-D is composed of diesel-range, paraffinic alkanes, and can therefore be blended with conventional diesel in high concentrations of 50% or more. Neither product will require changes to existing infrastructure.
No. Biodiesel and diesel are two distinct forms of fuel, with different chemical composition, manufacturing processes and market opportunities. At a molecular level, biodiesel is composed of fatty alkyl esters, whereas diesel is composed of hydrocarbons. Although Joule has the technical capability to produce both forms of fuel, we are developing diesel – not biodiesel. This distinction is important for a several reasons.
- According to OPEC's 2009 World Outlook, world demand for middle distillate fuel, chiefly diesel, will grow faster than any other refined oil product to 34.2 million barrels per day by 2030. It's already the #1 transportation fuel in Europe, and represents 28% of the US fuel market. Joule's diesel fuel is directly targeting this very same global market – requiring no engine modifications or changes to existing transportation infrastructure.
- Biodiesel is not a direct replacement fuel because it can only be blended with conventional diesel at a low percentage. Biodiesel also has known performance and fuel economy disadvantages as compared to diesel.
- Joule has developed and patented a highly-efficient process for converting waste CO2 directly into liquid hydrocarbons (alkanes), requiring no processing, cracking or refining. By contrast, the process for making biodiesel, which is derived from vegetable, animal or algal oils and fats, is dependent on raw material feedstocks, costly harvesting and downstream processing. This results in higher production costs and higher market pricing that impede the use of biodiesel in place of affordable diesel fuel.
How does Joule calculate production of up to 25,000 gal/ethanol and 15,000 gal/diesel per acre per year?
These quantities represent our ultimate commercial targets at full-scale production. We look at the total amount of energy that we can capture from the sun according to geography, and the resultant amount of Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR) we can directly apply to our process. We're continually working to maximize productivity by engineering the optimal microorganisms, enhancing our bioprocessing, and increasing the photon conversion efficiency of our SolarConverter® system.
For a detailed explanation of how our productivities are calculated, please refer to this peer-reviewed article published by Photosynthesis Research.
Photobioreactors are known to be complex and costly to operate. Is the SolarConverter system the same as a photobioreactor?
The SolarConverter® system captures photonic energy from the sun, but it's designed to serve an entirely novel purpose with economies of scale that far surpass photobioreactors. In the context of biofuels, photobioreactors are used to cultivate algae biomass, and productivity levels fall short of justifying capital costs. By contrast, Joule does not grow or use biomass to produce fuels. The SolarConverter system houses a circulating medium, comprised of proprietary microorganisms, brackish water and micro nutrients, and facilitates CO2 conversion to fuels and chemicals in a direct, continuous process. The SolarConverter capsules are thin and modular, precisely designed for optimal use of light, ease of installation and scale. Joule's anticipated productivity and capital cost per gallon make the SolarConverter system highly cost-effective.
At full-scale commercialization, we are targeting our costs for ethanol and diesel to be as low as $1.28/gallon and $50/bbl respectively - without subsidies. This is based on an industrial-scale plant of at least 1,000 acres, producing our commercial targets of 25,000 gallons/ethanol and 15,000 gallons/diesel per acre annually, and including our capital costs.
Do your microorganisms produce any potentially harmful toxins? If so, what precautions are you taking?
We have done extensive genome analysis and shown that our microorganisms do not have pathways for production of toxins. Safety is a top priority, and we're working with top flight environmental counsel to ensure that our activities comply with the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requirements for contained research and development. Our scale-up operations are being designed to meet or exceed federal, state and local workplace and environmental health and safety requirements.
Our microorganisms are fully contained in closed systems, and are inactivated prior to being collected and destroyed by incineration. In the very slim chance of their release, the production microorganisms are not competitive outside the process containment. Furthermore, we have designed mechanisms to limit viability of the microorganism in the environment â€“ meaning it cannot survive outside the system.
Joule conducts genome engineering of naturally-occurring photosynthetic microorganisms. Our technology optimizes their function in an industrial process, but does not fundamentally alter the life form itself, nor does it "create" life. The practice has been safely and productively applied for more than 30 years in well-known processes using fermentative bacteria and yeasts to make amino acids, antibiotics, fuels and other value-added chemicals.
This differs from synthetic biology in that the goals are not to reduce biological systems to devices, or to design new forms of life. We are redirecting the natural metabolism for the production of specific molecules.
Joule applies genome engineering using an environmentally safe microorganism under standards recognized by the National Institute of Health. Our goal is to use naturally-occurring photosynthesis to achieve sustainable environmental and societal benefits.
Joule Partners with Audi to Accelerate Development and Commercialization of Sustainable, Carbon-Neutral Fuels