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New System Using Microbes to Convert CO2 to Biofuels in a Single-Step Process

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bacteria hydrocarbons-jj-001By discovering unique genes coding for enzymatic mechanisms, Joule Biotechnologies, Inc. has developed a method that involves direct microbial conversion of CO2 by using genetically-engineered organisms.

These microbes feed on solar power and synthesize both the alkane and olefin molecules. Although the hydrocarbon fuels have only been produced in lab quantities, the company plans a pilot demonstration for 2011.

Joule’s phot0synthesis-driven SolarConverter system produces the biofuels in a single step, from cellulose or algae.

This achievement marks a critical step towards making renewable diesel fuel a reality at high volumes and competitive costs. We are accelerating the pace to create a direct replacement for petroleum-based diesel that can use today’s storage and distribution methods, with a very high net energy balance, and without the depletion of natural resources incurred by biomass-to-liquid approaches. It won’t happen overnight, but this latest milestone opens the door to an industry-changing technology.

-Bill Sims, President and CEO, Joule Biotechnologies

Joule’s biofuel production process doesn’t require raw material feedstocks, and because the organisms they use are genetically engineered to produce biofuel from CO2, it avoids costly steps such as biomass collection, energy-consuming fermentation and refinement. Their process only needs a non-arable land, no crops, and doesn’t use any fresh water. It’s an interesting option if you’re a biodiesel fan. OPEC’s 2009 World Outlook predicted that the demand for biofuels will grow from 19 million barrels per day in 2009 to 34.2 million barrels per day in 2030, of which 3 million barrels are diesel.

Well, I hope electric cars will eventually take over the biofuel industry and the internal combustion engine by then, but otherwise this kind of systems are interesting for CO2 capturing and sequestration. I wouldn’t count biofuels in the long run (the next 50 years).

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