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Can Joule deliver on the hype? Clock’s ticking for ‘fuel from the sun’

For the company Joule Unlimited, which claims it’s developed a way to create “Liquid Fuel from the Sun™,” today marks a watershed moment. Not because it’s nabbed $30 million in funding and adopted a new, more corporate name (it was previously “Joule Biotechnologies”).

No, today’s a big day because this is the point where the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company has to start proving that it can deliver a reality that matches its hype.

And what a bit of hype it’s promising. Joule’s technology sounds pretty much what some would call the “Holy Grail” of clean energy (we won’t, because we’re so sick and tired of that phrase … we’re just saying): a strategy that requires no clean water and no arable land and uses a “library” of “highly engineered, product-specific photosynthetic organisms” to essentially pluck the energy straight out of sunlight and convert it directly into liquid fuels ready to go in today’s cars, trucks and planes.

If that’s not a spectacularly exciting concept for an energy- and food-hungry, carbon-glutted world, we don’t know what is.

But here, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road. Joule has plans to take its pilot operations to commercial scale by 2012 — that’s a pretty short time frame. And in that time frame, it promises to be able to produce “up to 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually, at costs as low as $30 per barrel equivalent.”

Can Joule deliver? The clock starts ticking now.


  • Uncle B
    Posted April 29, 2010 at 10:56 am

    Sunlight plus CO2 to oil.This is proven science – old hat – but to do it economically? The current price for oil is so low as to keep many Solar, Wind, Wave,Tidal, and Geothermal technologies out of the running, as well as Algae-diesel and other biological means of providing liquid fuel for piston engines. Burgeoning Asian growth and its higher demands for oil will run oil prices up faster than predicted for diminishing reserves. As theis happens, and it is happening today as we speak, newer technologies will fall into place, witness: the humanure sourced methane that powers the public buses in Oslo Norway today!Remember: Oil is not the only source of energy – just the cheapest to date! Keeping in mind, all the while, a totally domestic, electric energy economy is a likely replacement for foreign liquid energy economy in the U.S.A., after all, out oil reserves are exhausted but the sun still shines, the wind blows, the tides rise and fall, the rain still falls, and the earth in some spots is still quite warm.

  • Benjamin Koshkin
    Posted April 28, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    It sounds like pie in the sky, but we can hope that it is true.

    Benjamin Koshkin

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