The article titled Solar+Water+Carbondioxide = Diesel? briefly describes how Joule Biotechnologies have come up with a new technology to make hydrocarbons without using biomass! Biofuels which is basically ethanol (via fermentation) or biodiesel (via transesterification) made from plant biomass have now been able to displace more than 2% of global petroleum consumption. Although this first generation biofuels have been able to provide an alternative to the oil market, their expansion in order to provide more fuels is restricted by their competition with food and cropland and debate over net carbon emissions as well as the net positive energy balance. Second generation biofuels made from cellulose is better since it does not compete with food or cropland. However, since these fuels have not been in the market yet due to the lack of better method to utilize them, there is still lots of research to be done so that second generation biofuels can make it to the market. Alternative methods such as using algae to produce biofuels has been made. However, these have not been an ideal organism since the cost put into it and its management has been shown to outscale its product.
Joule Biotechnology aims at utilizing proprietary microorganisms that turns photons, water and carbon dioxide directly into drop-in fuels. Although Joule Biotechnology does not reveal much about its technology, it uses “solar converter” that acts as solar walls and captures the photons from the solar energy such that the proprietary bugs can utilize the photons to make fuels. Their technique uses an organism that directs the energy from photosynthesis in making fuels rather than its growth. Not much in-depth detail is given about this technology in this paper. Moreover, the NASA scientist Dr. Aaron Baum is skeptical about this technology. The company humbly claims that they have tried this process only in a laboratory scale and hence still have to work to make it successful on a large scale. The company aims to make two pilot plants this year (one to make diesel and the other to make ethanol) and will make the demonstration plant in 2011, hoping to commercialize it by 2012. This article raises new hopes on the making of fuel but this technology seems like it is still in its birth.