Skip to comments.Joule Unlimited biofuels demo plant that will convert waste into biodiesel + ethanol
Posted on 11/13/2011 6:10:43 PM PST by Titus-Maximus
Joule Unlimited ready to start construction on biofuels demonstration plant in Hobbs, New Mexico, that will convert sunlight, CO2 waste into up to 75 million gallons of biodiesel, 125 million gallons of ethanol per year
Nov 11, 2011 as
Headlines are rewritten for editorial clarity. The original story and headline begin below.
Original Headline: Construction to begin on NM biofuels plant
HOBBS, New Mexico, November 11, 2011 (as) A Massachusetts company is ready to start construction on a biofuels demonstration plant in New Mexico.
Joule Unlimited Inc. plans to convert sunlight and carbon dioxide waste into biofuel at the planned facility in Hobbs. The plant is expected to begin operations in 2012.
Joule officials gathered in Hobbs on Thursday to make the announcement.
The plant is expected to generate 20 permanent jobs in addition to construction jobs.
State officials say Joule has the potential to expand its operations to create 500 new jobs in Hobbs by producing up to 75 million gallons of renewable diesel and 125 million gallons of ethanol per year.
Lea County officials say Joule will fit into their so-called EnergyPlex. The county has been working to attract both traditional and renewable energy-related businesses to southeastern New Mexico.
Producing a lot of fuel for a demo plant.
75 million gallons per year of biodiesel is roughly $600 million in cash revenues!
This could be the answer to a lot of coal plants.
How much gov funds are involved?
If it has a subsidy, it is fraud.
That is revenues, not profit.
I’d be interested in knowing if its really a viable business model this company is pursuing or whether this is a big bail-out in the making.
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A gallon of diesel has over 50 kwh of energy, full sunlight has about 1kw/square meter at noon. Factoring in efficiency of biologic systems, hours of daylight per day and conversion losses, that is going to be one big demo plant.
Yep, if government is involved in it, you can just about guarantee that it is fake and a scam to part investors from their money.
You know, I have always been interested in “alcohol as a fuel”. You probably have heard the guy with the website of the same name. I have long thought that counties, particularly smaller or rural counties could build some “stills” to run their county fleet. I could even see fuel coops in such settings.
I do not know if the Joule Unlimited Biofuels demo plant is another Washington DC “green jobs” baby, I hope not.
I can see local folks putting together local solutions for some fuel issues, such as county and town vehicles and extending those successes from there to the general local population.
I'm no chemist but aren't they missing a few necessary ingredients?
Water, theoretically.. And i AM a chemist.
Who's paying $8 a gallon for diesel?
More like $375 MM
$5 X 75 = $375.
Cambridge, Mass. October 18, 2011 Joule today announced its recognition as the 2011 Wall Street Journal Technology Innovation Award Winner in the category of Energy, chosen for its transformational approach to highly-efficient renewable fuel production. In addition, Joule received the Silver award across all of the competition’s 16 categories, for which there were over 600 entrants from around the world.
“We are honored to be the Wall Street Journal’s choice for the most innovative energy company, and to be recognized even beyond our industry as one of the worlds top innovators overall,” said Bill Sims, President and CEO of Joule.
“We started with a big idea the direct conversion of sunlight to fuel without raw material feedstocks and four years later we’ve proven the process, optimized the technology, built a strong patent portfolio and laid the groundwork for commercial production to begin in 2013. We will bring much-needed scalability and infrastructure-readiness to the renewable fuels space, with a platform that can yield multiple products, including valuable, fungible diesel fuel vs. a blendstock like biodiesel. We appreciate this recognition of our company’s efforts to successfully innovate outside of today’s common ‘biofuel’ definition,” said Sims.
As stated in the Journal’s report by Kenny Tang, one of the independent judges and founder & CEO of Oxbridge Weather Capital, “In bypassing the limitations of expensive processes in conventional biofuel production, Joule’s technology has the exciting potential to significantly transform the economics of the biofuel industry. If translated into wider use, it is a potential game changerit could become a cost-effective replacement to petroleum on a much wider scale than previously possible, especially with its non-reliance on biomass.”
Unlike the costly, multi-step production of biofuels from biomass, Joule’s Helioculture platform directly and continuously converts solar energy to infrastructure-compatible fuels and chemicals, including fungible diesel and ethanol. The platform combines breakthroughs in genome engineering, process engineering and solar capture and conversion to achieve productivities that will be up to 100X greater than biomass-dependent processes, while avoiding depletion of agricultural land or fresh water. Using sunlight and waste CO2 from industrial emitters or pipelines, with a modular SolarConverter® system that allows ease of scale, Joule targets commercial production of up to 15,000 gallons of diesel and 25,000 gallons of ethanol per acre annually, at stable costs as low as $20/bble and $0.60/gallon respectively, including subsidies.
Joule has been conducting pilot operations for over one year and will begin construction of its first demonstration-scale plant this quarter.
To select the award winners, a team of Journal editors and reporters reviewed the entries and forwarded 155 to an independent panel of judges from venture capital firms, universities and other organizations and companies. From that pool, the judges chose a total of 35 winners and runners-up in 16 categories. The judges assessed entrants on the following criteria: whether the innovation breaks with conventional ideas or processes in its field, whether it goes beyond marginal improvements on something that already exists, and whether it will have a wide impact in its field or on future technology.
Complete coverage of the 2011 Technology Innovation Awards is accessible online here.
Joule is advancing a technology platform for Liquid Fuel from the Sun, expected to eclipse the scale, productivity and cost efficiency of any known alternative to fossil fuel today. Its transformative Helioculture platform directly and continuously converts sunlight and waste CO2 to infrastructure-ready diesel, ethanol or commodity chemicals with no dependence on biomass feedstocks, downstream processing or precious natural resources. This process can yield renewable fuels and chemicals in unprecedented volumes with a fraction of the land required by current methods, leapfrogging biomass-dependent approaches and eliminating the economic and environmental disadvantages of fossil fuels. Founded in 2007 by Flagship VentureLabs, Joule is privately held and headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Additional information is available at www.jouleunlimited.com.
Just hydrogen and possibly oxygen - probably from water used by the bio-germs making the diesel. Cetane is the primary hydrocarbon in diesel. It's molecular designation is C16H34.
Fermentation processes aren’t anything new. What would be new is such a process which did not also consume copious quantities of fresh water.
Biodiesel made from long carbon chain fatty acids often involves creating an ester in a process involving lye (as a catalyst — no sodium gets into the final product), alcohol, and a tiny bit of water. Straight fat can be fed to diesel engines and they will run on it, but it will gum them up badly.
As someone who does research in this field, it cannot possible perform as claimed!
Sort of reminds me of the “cold fusion” thing-ah-ma-bob and Bernie Madoff!
I think the process they are touting is based on growing algae fed on CO2, although I would think additional nutrients would be needed?
I think I remember reading that Japan was doing this....40 years ago.
Could you provide a general rundown (in layman's terms please) of the problems you see with it?
I volunteer to test a couple of thousand gallons/yr for FREE!
Making alcohol on the micro scale would get the BATF&E&FF (fast and furious) involved and they would say no dice.
Size of the plant to collect enough solar energy.
Viable microbes to do the job.
Infrastructure to keep the microbes alive.
Doing it all in a cost effective manor.
Fractional condensation processes, apparatuses and systems also looks interesting.
Just common sense. Pilot or demo plants are normally a fraction of the size of production facilities. Why go full scale? These plants usually have an underlying product or technology that the company is already selling. What do these guys sell now?
They’re called pilots or demos because no one ever expects them to make money. Many times the ‘end product’ isn’t actually finished and useable the way a commercial product would be. No sense spending money on something everyone knows how to do, and the additional expense might not justify the return.
The big breakthrough, when it comes - and it WILL come - is going to be far simpler and more elegant.
“Water, theoretically.. And i AM a chemist . . ..”
The first question to present itself to me upon reading this item was: Is not water the basis of the liquid physical state of those millions of gallons of biofuel?
Second question: Is not this project to be based in a desert?
Third question: WTF?
...and without subsidies? How does it compare with petroleum based fuels before all the taxes are added to them?
1. Here’s a link to a description of a catalytic process to synthesize ethanol from carbon dioxide and hydrogen .
2. During prohibition ethanol was distilled from a mash of sugar-water catalyzed by yeast (white lightning). The price of gasoline probably would have to run up pretty high for that to be economical for use in your car.
Energy from sunlight is the critical or limitting factor. You can pipe in water from another state, you can’t pipe in sunlight.
I think they are looking for a location with maximum cloud free days.
“You can pipe in water from another state . . ..”
This is true, in a physical sense. But I would be hard pressed to name a state in the southwest willing and able to export water. But, I could be wrong, and not for the first time.
Wow. That is an interesting patent. Keep in mind here that this is primarily a biochemistry topic and my training is NOT in biochem.
Regular photsynthesis takes CO2 and water and light to synthesize sugars and poly-sugars (cellulose) to make plants grow.
Their patent claims that they can engineer microbes that will take CO2 and water and light and synthesize whatever they want them to. The microbe thing is “magic” to me, so I can’t say whether they can or not. But look at common yeast that can produce ethanol from sugar. Magic. It would be quite difficult do do that reaction without the biochem reactor that is the yeast.
The patent includes a very LONG list of possible end products that these microbes might produce. This may be just a patent thing to make their claims as broad as possible. It’s not clear that they have demonstrated the ability to produce any or all of these products.
They’re also claiming a microbe process to produce sugars (just like photosynthesis) and then a photo-fermentation process - probably a lot like the yeast thing - to produce ethanol.
Accordingly, the invention provides cells which produce metabolic sugars, e.g., glucose, through photosynthesis using light, water and CO 2 , subsequently converting the sugars into carbon-based products of interest in an efficient, sustainable yield.
They mention ethanol a lot, so this may be the most likely product from their engineered microbes. Still a good deal if the only inputs are CO2, light, and water.
On the water thing... they only mention water a few times in the patent. Thing is, in order to make a hydrocarbon, you need both hydro(gen) and carbon. Water is the easiest source of hydrogen and is what is used in regular photosynthesis.
I’m thinking that the ethanol produced here will ‘still’ require distillation, so that will require some energy. The key here is to produce more chemical energy in the ethanol than the heat energy required to distill the ethanol.
Bottom line, it depends on their ability to mess with these microbes enough to get the products that they want. Sadly, that is beyond my ability to judge.
Still, an interesting idea. Ethanol is C2H6O, so three molecules of water are required for each molecule of CO2. Oxygen may be a by-product of the reaction.
That patent is amazing, huh? I don’t think I’ve seen one that length or detail before. The growth medium for the microbes includes water, too. They also mention required nutrients (eg, vitamin B12) to get the bugs to grow, but they mention that it is not possible to produce the necessary vitamins at the scale needed.
Their systems patent had quite a few designs for bioreactors with feedstock, heat, flowrate information, fractionators, etc. The gaseous feedstock included (IIRC) about 6% water together with a lot of N2.
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>just Co2 and sunlight and the genetically manipulated organisms give off diesel.
So then, if we build a big brewery right next door...
(Carbon Dioxide is the *other* byproduct of the fermenting.)
>The first question to present itself to me upon reading this item was: Is not water the basis of the liquid physical state of those millions of gallons of biofuel?
No. Water in your diesel is a Bad Thing.
I’m quite sure that the production of “biofuels,” which are ethanol, requires water. For example, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, etc.
>Im quite sure that the production of biofuels, which are ethanol, requires water. For example, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, etc.
I’m not sure if there was a step requiring water in biodiesel production. The hydrocarbons in biodeiesel, IIRC, come straight from the fats.