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CO2-to-fuel claim: Godsend or the next ‘cold fusion’?

alchemyA US-based firm — Joule Biotechnologies — grabbed big headlines around the world this week with the announcement that it’s developed a way to “directly convert carbon dioxide into SolarFuel™ liquid energy.” The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating: does this process really work as advertised … efficiently, cost-effectively and at a scale that can make it commercially viable?

Upon making its debut splash, Joule claimed its breakthrough Helioculture™ technology provides “eco-friendly, direct-to-fuel conversion (that) requires no agricultural land or fresh water, and leverages a highly scalable system capable of producing more than 20,000 gallons of renewable ethanol or hydrocarbons per acre annually — far eclipsing productivity levels of current alternatives while rivaling the costs of fossil fuels.”

Sounds fantastic. But how does the technology actually work? A followup article in Reuters offered few answers, noting that Joule’s secret lies with “engineered organisms” … and, no, they’re not algae. In fact, the article quotes Joule president and CEO Bill Sims as saying, “This is definitely not a biofuels company.”

But wait, there’s more. The Joule technology produces not only liquid fuel but useful SolarChemical™ products. And it does so at a cost that’s competitive with $50 per barrel oil.

Joule says its first offering — SolarEthanol™ — will be ready for commercial-scale development next year, with a process demonstration to be up and running by 2011.

Does it all sound too good to be true? (And you know what they say about that.) Forgive us if we sound a tad doubtful, but we’ve been around long enough to remember the cold fusion hype. We’ll be happy to wait and see, however.


  • John Craig
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 4:27 pm

    This could be a great breakthrough, or it could be all hype. The important thing is to keep an open mind to all possibilities. No pre-judgments or dream stealing please! As to cold fusion, please do your research. A check with the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego shows it’s real, as do results reported by many other research centers around the world.

  • Uncle B
    Posted July 31, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Fella at a Korean University makes a similar claim, using various catalysts and has apparently applied for patents – So What! We are still in Afghanistan, still seeking Turkmenistan’s oil and beyond, still selling V-8 cars and now,in a turncoat affair! Steven Chu, Obama’s Science boy, has gone Nuclear! Goddamn! The more things change, the more they stay the same! Rio Tinto here we come, penny jar in hand, begging for fair Uranium prices while So9lar goes free!

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