Overcoming the limitations of photosynthesis, Joule has successfully co-opted nature’s primary energy capture process at unprecedented efficiencies for direct, continuous fuel production. This includes the engineering of a photosynthetic biocatalyst able to divert 95% of fixed carbon normally converted to biomass directly to fuel, and the industry first improvement of its photon energy conversion efficiency. This means that Joule has not only effectively re-channeled photosynthesis, but improved its overall energy capture efficiency by nearly 100% in outdoor testing at Joule’s demonstration facility in Hobbs, New Mexico.
The results of this work were presented at the 2014 Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology (SIMB) Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.
Prior research has generally capped the photon energy conversion efficiency of photosynthetic processes at 2 – 3%. This was based on observations of photosynthesis in nature, where it encounters its two significant drains of useful energy – photorespiration and photoinhibition. These conditions prevent the optimal use of CO2 and light, and cannot be regulated in open outdoor environments. By contrast, Joule has applied a systems approach that spans biocatalyst, reactor and process engineering to negate the effects of these conditions, resulting in many-fold greater energy conversion efficiencies and supporting Joule’s estimated maximum of 14%.
“By effectively taking photosynthesis out of nature and into a controlled system, we have been able to realize its industrial potential,” said Dan Robertson, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer of Joule. “Our biocatalyst, reactor and process have been developed in parallel to solve a natural mismatch between the photosynthetic conversion of energy and the metabolic processes which use that energy. As a result, we have demonstrated a production platform unlike any other – capable of producing liquid fuels directly from sunlight and CO2 with efficiencies previously thought unattainable.”
Joule’s work was presented at the SIMB Annual Meeting during a session on the metabolic engineering of photosynthetic microbes. These microbes use sunlight and CO2 to produce molecules essential for their own growth. Using a variety of techniques to genomically engineer these microbes, Joule has changed the products of this natural process into fuel molecules, including ethanol and diesel. Additional details on Joule’s breakthrough approach can be found in a peer-reviewed paper published by Photosynthesis Research.
Joule has pioneered a CO2-to-fuel production platform, effectively reversing combustion through the use of solar energy. The company’s platform applies engineered catalysts to continuously convert waste CO2 directly into renewable fuels such as ethanol or hydrocarbons for diesel, jet fuel and gasoline. Free of feedstock constraints and complex processing, Joule’s process can achieve unrivaled scalability, volumes and costs without the use of any agricultural land, fresh water or crops. Joule is privately held and has raised over $160 million in funding to date, led by Flagship Ventures