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  • Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

    The limiting factor when making biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel is the need for an abundant feedstock for the yeasts or algae used in the process to consume. Finding an abundant feedstock to create fuel then raises the problem of feedstock crops competing with human food crops. While companies are turning to non-food and waste alternatives for feedstock, a “silver bullet” has yet to be found to address the problem. However, Joule Unlimited—a biotechnologies company engineering solutions to the biofuel feedstock problem—believes it has found the answer.

    Joule Unlimited has decided to take feedstock out of the equation completely, and is trying to use the principle of photosynthesis to create biodiesel and ethanol. Instead of algae or yeast, Joule Unlimited has genetically engineered unique cyanobacterium that can take in sunlight and CO2 and excrete either ethanol or hydrocarbons.

    Joule Unlimited believes they can produce biodiesel and ethanol at prices competitive with the fossil fuels market. The company estimates that their cyanobacterium can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre annually—four times more than current algal biodiesel processes. Joule Unlimited also predicts that their price per barrel will run only $30; far cheaper than the $100 a barrel crude oil prices on the market today.

    The bioreactors used in Joule’s process look similar to solar panels, and house the cyanobacterium in thin grooved modules that allow for maximum sun exposure. The first ten-acre demonstration facility of Joule Unlimited’s groundbreaking technology is to be built this year, and the company has received $30 million in private funding in 2010—not too shabby for a company of 70 employees that started up just four years ago in 2007. It looks like investors—including former White House Chief of Staff and Joule Unlimited Board of Directors member John Podesta—are taking Joule’s claims seriously. The company hopes to build their processing facilities in close proximity to existing power plants to divert the CO2 waste into their cyanobacterium modules, creating biofuel while reducing carbon emissions.

    http://www.energydigital.com/sectors...hout-feedstock
    Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho

  • #2
    Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

    The top-end for solar is 2 calories per square centimetre per minute. And to get the 2 cal, you have to be in space, outside the Earth's atmosphere. In a desert, you will be closer to 1 cal. per square centimetre per min. So, you will have to have acres and acres of panels growing bio-diesel. That means that you will use large amounts of water and require energy to harvest the bio-fuel.

    I call this the Law of Zero. Learn the Law of Zero. It is why one can not get rich picking-up pennies from the street, even solid copper pennies. Even if pennies were everywhere, you would expend too much energy to pick-up the pennies, everywhere. It's a loser's game.

    I detect a federal grant here. Where is it?

    And writing about deserts, you will only harvest 1 to 1.5 cal. per sq. cm. per minute early in summer around the time of the summer solstice. Even then, the sky has to be clear, and that is at solar noon during the day. And then at night, you radiate energy outward to the cold sky, especially in a desert. Yes, deserts are hot at night in summer, but outer space above the atmospere of the Earth is cold. The infra-red radiation from a desert surface is to outer-space, at -40F (-40C) or colder.

    We thought about all of these problems, decades ago, at the University of Minnesota, in the geography department, and we did field observations of the solar constant on the agricultural campus nearby in St. Paul. Solar is very unimpressive as an energy source, especially in a desert where you would require water to grow bio-fuels. You would also requre energy to move the water to and through the solar panels.

    And ethanol is a dirty word when one realizes that ethanol is a low-energy fuel when compared to pure gasoline or pure diesel. So motor vehicles guzzle ethanol because they require energy to do work. Ethanol does not have the energy needed in motor vehicles to do the work of moving the vehicle around, with fuel efficiency.

    Yes, if ethanol were to be sold for maybe 25cents per litre, then ethanol might become interesting as a fuel alternative. But ethanol sold at the price of gasoline (or diesel) is a joke on the consumer, and an insult to intelligence. The consumer is being ripped-off by such ethanol schemes.
    Last edited by Starving Steve; 03-01-11, 10:54 PM.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

      Very cool.

      The company's website has some good info & pics, too:

      http://www.jouleunlimited.com/

      It sounds like they are producing ethanol in their labs now, but the organism they're using can directly produce actual diesel, not biodiesel -- so there's no need for further refinement. Production is increased in the presence of high CO2, hence the desire to co-locate with other companies that are generating it as a waste product.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

        Originally posted by Master Shake View Post
        The limiting factor when making biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel is the need for an abundant feedstock for the yeasts or algae used in the process....
        ...
        The bioreactors used in Joule’s process look similar to solar panels, and house the cyanobacterium in thin grooved modules that allow for maximum sun exposure. ....
        ....
        ...hopes to build their processing facilities in close proximity to existing power plants to divert the CO2 waste into their cyanobacterium modules, creating biofuel while reducing carbon emissions.

        http://www.energydigital.com/sectors...hout-feedstock
        wow.... huh.....

        hmmmm....

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

          Originally posted by Starving Steve View Post
          And ethanol is a dirty word when one realizes that ethanol is a low-energy fuel when compared to pure gasoline or pure diesel. So motor vehicles guzzle ethanol because they require energy to do work. Ethanol does not have the energy needed in motor vehicles to do the work of moving the vehicle around, with fuel efficiency.

          [AGREED! - the present scheme, esp]


          Yes, if ethanol were to be sold for maybe 25cents per litre, then ethanol might become interesting as a fuel alternative. But ethanol sold at the price of gasoline (or diesel) is a joke on the consumer, and an insult to intelligence. The consumer is being ripped-off by such ethanol schemes.
          tho brazil seems to make it work....

          in any event, its NUTs to waste whats left of our/USA's RAPIDLY DWINDLING TOPSOIL RESOURCES ON WASTEFUL CONVERSION OF IT TO.... motor fuel?

          they've _got_ to be JOKING, with this - right?

          its like burning _electricity_

          to make, simply, heat: think about what electron movement is ultimately good for - does it makes sense to waste it making _heat_ (when the sun simply shinin down on top yo head can make heat all phreakin day long - FOR FREE!!!!)

          think about crude oil fer a sec.....

          its like wasting petroleum to burn in our cars - think about all the _other_ uses of petroleum - fer one thing, food production is almost impossible with out it, as simply FERTILIZER
          (not if anybody _really_ thinks we can feed even _another_ billion with 'all organic' means - or we all have to give up eating meat - that we dont raise/catch ourselves, anyway - but i mean really - BURN OIL FOR MOTORFUEL?

          its almost nuttier in a dangerous way, than burning off/erosion the last foot of topsoil in the midwest - to do what?

          'replace' 5% of oil imports?

          dunno bout most of you, but i'd rather walk (or bike, or rollerblade, paddle, skinny-ski, even?) than give up eating beef so i can be stuck in bumpah2bumpah traffic half the GD day, thankyouverymuch!
          Last edited by lektrode; 03-01-11, 11:30 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

            I stumbled onto this this a few months ago and thought to myself, "this has got to be either a scam or this century's Model T." I am really, really hoping it is at least half as good as promised because that is going to do great things for not only America, but humanity. So long as you don't live in a country that derives its income on oil, because your economy will collapse. Other than that, it will be universally great and, importantly, completely carbon-neutral.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

              Starving Steve, For once I agree with you completely....

              Originally posted by Starving Steve View Post
              The top-end for solar is 2 calories per square centimetre per minute. And to get the 2 cal, you have to be in space, outside the Earth's atmosphere. In a desert, you will be closer to 1 cal. per square centimetre per min. So, you will have to have acres and acres of panels growing bio-diesel. That means that you will use large amounts of water and require energy to harvest the bio-fuel.

              I call this the Law of Zero. Learn the Law of Zero. It is why one can not get rich picking-up pennies from the street, even solid copper pennies. Even if pennies were everywhere, you would expend too much energy to pick-up the pennies, everywhere. It's a loser's game.

              I detect a federal grant here. Where is it?

              And writing about deserts, you will only harvest 1 to 1.5 cal. per sq. cm. per minute early in summer around the time of the summer solstice. Even then, the sky has to be clear, and that is at solar noon during the day. And then at night, you radiate energy outward to the cold sky, especially in a desert. Yes, deserts are hot at night in summer, but outer space above the atmospere of the Earth is cold. The infra-red radiation from a desert surface is to outer-space, at -40F (-40C) or colder.

              We thought about all of these problems, decades ago, at the University of Minnesota, in the geography department, and we did field observations of the solar constant on the agricultural campus nearby in St. Paul. Solar is very unimpressive as an energy source, especially in a desert where you would require water to grow bio-fuels. You would also requre energy to move the water to and through the solar panels.

              And ethanol is a dirty word when one realizes that ethanol is a low-energy fuel when compared to pure gasoline or pure diesel. So motor vehicles guzzle ethanol because they require energy to do work. Ethanol does not have the energy needed in motor vehicles to do the work of moving the vehicle around, with fuel efficiency.

              Yes, if ethanol were to be sold for maybe 25cents per litre, then ethanol might become interesting as a fuel alternative. But ethanol sold at the price of gasoline (or diesel) is a joke on the consumer, and an insult to intelligence. The consumer is being ripped-off by such ethanol schemes.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                Doesn't 15,000 gallons /acre/year seem like a lot? Even in the desert with lots of sun - this seems like a very large volume of production and must be based on some very optimistic projections.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                  Another flaw to this as a solution is as follows, particularly when you take into consideration the land areas as brought up by Steve above:

                  1. 15,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year = 357 barrels of oil per acre per year.

                  2. If the US uses ~20mm b/d of oil, then to replace 100% of our oil use, we would need to have ~20mm acres of water growing this stuff.

                  3. By way of comparison, the US will plant ~91mm acres of corn this year. As you fly from NY to SFO sometime & watch the massive stretches of cropland below you, then realize that of all the corn fields below, to use this process to replace all of our oil needs would require a space equal to 25-30% of our entire amount of corn acreage.

                  The above makes it seem like a pipe dream to me unless they can get the biologic conversion ratio (15,000 gallons per acre per yr) ramped up by a factor of 20-200x.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                    There was a prior discussion of Joule:

                    http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthr...horse?p=190490

                    Basically it all sounds good, but there are a large number of holes in the story, including:

                    1) Insertion of photosynthesis into E.Coli - possible, but why when there are already single celled photosynthetic vehicles. The algae ventures have thus far proven fruitless - why would an even more complicated vehicle prove better?

                    2) Creation of hydrocarbons from photosynthetic outputs (i.e. sugars) - non trivial, and likely impossible in a single celled organism

                    3) Manufacturing output - even if the above 2 challenges are fixed, how to industrially farm a single celled organism. Challenges include: extraction of hydrocarbons from the nutrient slurry (for alcohol this involves burning fossil fuels to generate heat for distillation), what to feed (feedstock issue noted above), how to handle waste, etc etc

                    Originally posted by lektrode
                    tho brazil seems to make it work....
                    Brazil is growing sugar cane, then fermenting/distilling said sugar into ethanol. Throw in virtual slave labor, and you have a viable energy source.

                    Every step of the above process is well understood, controllable, and cheap - what Joule is supposedly doing doesn't exhibit any of these characteristics.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                      Originally posted by coolhand View Post
                      Another flaw to this as a solution is as follows, particularly when you take into consideration the land areas as brought up by Steve above:

                      1. 15,000 gallons of fuel per acre per year = 357 barrels of oil per acre per year.

                      2. If the US uses ~20mm b/d of oil, then to replace 100% of our oil use, we would need to have ~20mm acres of water growing this stuff.

                      3. By way of comparison, the US will plant ~91mm acres of corn this year. As you fly from NY to SFO sometime & watch the massive stretches of cropland below you, then realize that of all the corn fields below, to use this process to replace all of our oil needs would require a space equal to 25-30% of our entire amount of corn acreage.

                      The above makes it seem like a pipe dream to me unless they can get the biologic conversion ratio (15,000 gallons per acre per yr) ramped up by a factor of 20-200x.
                      I'm a bit confused by your unit convention. To me, mm means millimeter, which is evidently not what it means in your post. Can you explain a bit please?

                      Also, keep in mind that if this does indeed work similarly to the way it's hyped, then it will still be a game-changer. We already devote a significant percentage of our corn crop to the big ethanol scam, and keep in mind that the goal to replace the entire US consumption of oil with this is a very ambitious and late-term goal. As soon as oil starts getting produced synthetically, I suspect the price will suffer a not insignificant decline and the rules of Peak Cheap Oil will be forever changed.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                        Originally posted by Ghent12
                        Also, keep in mind that if this does indeed work similarly to the way it's hyped, then it will still be a game-changer. We already devote a significant percentage of our corn crop to the big ethanol scam, and keep in mind that the goal to replace the entire US consumption of oil with this is a very ambitious and late-term goal. As soon as oil starts getting produced synthetically, I suspect the price will suffer a not insignificant decline and the rules of Peak Cheap Oil will be forever changed.
                        It might, if it works, and if the cost isn't exorbitant.

                        For one thing, while corn ethanol only yields something like 150 bushels/acre = 400 gallons of ethanol (using 2.7 gallons/bushel - all numbers very optimistic) - the infrastructure necessary is basically identical to that of growing corn as food.

                        I can guarantee that the Joule process doesn't work the same way: at a minimum it requires a tank, tubing and feedstock, chemicals/testing/monitoring/sterilization - and this assumes the harvest process is similar to that of ethanol.

                        Expand this to 20 million acres and clearly this is just a pipe dream for the next decade. Probably a very fine way to 'harvest' the capital markets though.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                          Originally posted by c1ue View Post
                          It might, if it works, and if the cost isn't exorbitant.

                          For one thing, while corn ethanol only yields something like 150 bushels/acre = 400 gallons of ethanol (using 2.7 gallons/bushel - all numbers very optimistic) - the infrastructure necessary is basically identical to that of growing corn as food.

                          I can guarantee that the Joule process doesn't work the same way: at a minimum it requires a tank, tubing and feedstock, chemicals/testing/monitoring/sterilization - and this assumes the harvest process is similar to that of ethanol.

                          Expand this to 20 million acres and clearly this is just a pipe dream for the next decade. Probably a very fine way to 'harvest' the capital markets though.
                          So you're saying it requires capital similar to the petroleum industry? How is that a pipe dream?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                            Originally posted by Master Shake View Post
                            The limiting factor when making biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel is the need for an abundant feedstock for the yeasts or algae used in the process to consume. Finding an abundant feedstock to create fuel then raises the problem of feedstock crops competing with human food crops. While companies are turning to non-food and waste alternatives for feedstock, a “silver bullet” has yet to be found to address the problem. However, Joule Unlimited—a biotechnologies company engineering solutions to the biofuel feedstock problem—believes it has found the answer.

                            Joule Unlimited has decided to take feedstock out of the equation completely, and is trying to use the principle of photosynthesis to create biodiesel and ethanol. Instead of algae or yeast, Joule Unlimited has genetically engineered unique cyanobacterium that can take in sunlight and CO2 and excrete either ethanol or hydrocarbons.

                            Joule Unlimited believes they can produce biodiesel and ethanol at prices competitive with the fossil fuels market. The company estimates that their cyanobacterium can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre annually—four times more than current algal biodiesel processes. Joule Unlimited also predicts that their price per barrel will run only $30; far cheaper than the $100 a barrel crude oil prices on the market today.

                            The bioreactors used in Joule’s process look similar to solar panels, and house the cyanobacterium in thin grooved modules that allow for maximum sun exposure. The first ten-acre demonstration facility of Joule Unlimited’s groundbreaking technology is to be built this year, and the company has received $30 million in private funding in 2010—not too shabby for a company of 70 employees that started up just four years ago in 2007. It looks like investors—including former White House Chief of Staff and Joule Unlimited Board of Directors member John Podesta—are taking Joule’s claims seriously. The company hopes to build their processing facilities in close proximity to existing power plants to divert the CO2 waste into their cyanobacterium modules, creating biofuel while reducing carbon emissions.

                            http://www.energydigital.com/sectors...hout-feedstock
                            A thread from last month also covered this company: http://www.itulip.com/forums/showthr...87320#poststop

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Biodiesel from photosynthesis?

                              I do see an interesting angle to this, though. Can you imagine how attractive it would be if they could compartmentalize these units, and sell/distribute them throughout the country? Not every one would have to be a many million acre farm. These could be scalable, I'd imagine. There's lots of farm land across the south that could find room for these. All depends on the efficiency of the bugs, and the overall process.

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