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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Biofuels Breakthrough: Making Fuel From Air With Engineered Microbes

In what could be a major breakthrough, Joule Biotechnologies announced that it has directly produced fuel from the plentiful carbon dioxide in the air around us using highly engineered photosynthetic microbes.

Inside specially designed reactors, Joule’s engineered microbes thrive off of sunlight and CO2. In return, depending on the type of organism, they can produce straight ethanol, diesel or a number of other types of hydrocarbons.

Although the process sounds similar to algae-produced biofuels, the Joule process is incredibly (and beneficially) different for several reasons:

  • Doesn’t produce biomass
  • No agricultural feedstock needed
  • Can be conducted on non-arable land
  • Doesn’t need fresh water
  • Produces fuel directly without the need for extraction or refinement

Apparently Joule has discovered some unique genes inside these microbes that produce the enzymes responsible for directly making the molecules found in diesel. From there, engineering organisms to make other fuels was a simple step. At this point, production of the fuels has only been done in the lab, but Joule has plans to open a pilot plant in early 2011.

Source: Biofuels Digest

Image Credit: Joule Biotechnologies