Advances in green technology
never cease to amaze me. Just a few years ago, we were learning how to make diesel fuel from recycled cooking oil, now a Massachusetts company has figured out a way to make renewable biodiesel using the same ingredients plants use to grow
: the sun, water and carbon dioxide.
Joule Unlimited, out of Cambridge, Ma., just published their plan to convert solar energy into liquid fuel. And yes, the process is as complicated as that sounds. I'll do my best not to get too scientific...
Bio-fuel isn't necessarily a new game plan. Companies have been using corn to produce ethanol for years or using a form of algae to convert sun into fuel. The main problem with both of those processes is that it takes a fuel (corn or algae) to create the finished product (usable diesel). The raw fuel created from either of these must be refined before use, and of course it takes time to grow the corn or algae, and then it must be destroyed to create the end product. The cycle is expensive and time consuming, which slows down the supply of finished biodiesel.
Joule claims they have a solution to the supply chain problem. The researchers at Joule genetically engineered organisms that are capable of photosynthesis, the same process plants use to convert solar energy into food, but they are gentically engineered, making them capable of secreting a finished product. There's no need to destroy them and start over after the first batch of fuel--it's completely renewable, and groundbreaking.
The cyanobacterium will live in a liquid solution on panels similar to solar panels that are connected to a fuel collection chamber. As they complete photosynthesis, instead of oxygen being the byproduct (like other plants), their byproduct will be ethanol or hydrocarbons.
According to Joule, these cyanobacterium can produce 15,000 gallons of diesel fuel per acre each year, which is about four times more than the most efficient process for making fuel from algae. They say they can do it for about $30 a barrel. And since the organisms use carbon dioxide for their fuel-making process, Joule says they'll be cleaning up the air too.
Skeptics say that the dark lining on this green cloud is efficient recovery of the fuel. Apparently it will be mixed with water when secreted from the organisms, making it an engineering challenge to effectively separate, especially in the large quantities Joule is predicting. Only time will tell if this method to make biofuel from photosynthesis
is too good to be true, but I'm cheering in Joule's corner.